Movies “based on actual events” are often sure bets in the annual Hollywood awards season.
Dunkirk set the pace with a midyear release, while many think leaving that as late as possible creates a fresher impression among those who choose the winners.
Sir Ridley Scott cut it finer than most with his decision to reshoot 22 scenes of All the Money in the World (Sony) that featured the disgraced actor Kevin Spacey.
Sir Christopher Plummer proved a good choice as oil magnate John P Getty, even though the frantic effort added some $US10 million to the $US40 million budget. Both men are in their 80s and demonstrated age is an advantage in meeting a tough deadline. In the event, Money was only three days later than its planned release date and qualified for the Oscars.
This was paralleled by another master of slick production, Steven Spielberg, who turned out The Post (20th Century Fox), also set in the early 1970s, in just six months.
Despite the “actual events” being nearly 50 years ago, topicality with contemporary events is apparent. Money recreates the 1971 kidnapping of Getty’s oldest grandson,
17-year-old John Paul III, by a branch of the Italian mafia. At the time, Getty was the world’s richest man and the prospect of demands for ransom were a family in-joke.
At first, Getty figured the kidnapping was a trick being played by the wayward teenager, who looked to be following in the feckless life of his father. Getty senior’s reputation for meanness was based on his ruthless view of human life — in one scene he washes his own underwear to save laundry costs.
When he publicly refuses to pay any ransom, he is challenged by his daughter-in-law, Gail (Michelle Williams), who has custody of her children after a divorce. While Scott adds to the suspense with plenty of action scenes, it is the family drama that proves the most compelling, with Plummer pulling rank in the acting stakes on Williams and the other major character, Getty’s “fixer” (Mark Wahlberg).
While both fall short in their roles, Spielberg has no problems with Meryl Streep as Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham and Tom Hanks as editor Ben Bradlee when they seize the opportunity created by the Nixon administration’s gagging of the New York Times over publication of the Pentagon Papers in 1971.
This was a couple of years before the Post exposed the Watergate scandal, depicted in All the President’s Men, and triggered Nixon’s eventual downfall. Together with 2016’s Spotlight, these three movies pay homage to the classic newspaper investigations
that have fallen victim to the Internet age of news gathering.
The similarities between The Post and Spotlight are not accidental — both are scripted by Josh Singer (with Liz Hannah).
Daniel Ellsberg, a former Marine and government researcher, spilled the beans on the Vietnam War by revealing evidence of disastrous decisions by Presidents Kennedy
and Johnson. President Nixon was not responsible for their actions but decided to prevent the papers being made public.
Ellsberg offered them to the Post and the plot is largely concerned with the dilemma of a financially insecure newspaper risking its existence in the name of press freedom.
Unlike their New York equivalents, Bradlee and the recently widowed Graham were Washington insiders and their gamble against the establishment turned what
had been a home town paper into a significant national one.
Today, it is competing vigorously with the Times over who can expose most about the Trump administration in the continuing war between the media and the presidency.
Ratings: All the Money in the World: Restricted to audiences over 13. 132 minutes. The Post: Mature audiences. 115 minutes.