Starring: Michelle Williams, Mark Wahlberg, Christopher Plummer
Director: Ridley Scott
Running Time: 133 mins
Synopsis: Based on the true story surrounding the kidnap of 16 year old John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer) in Italy during the summer of 1973. His captors demanding $17 million. The reason; his grandfather is the richest man in the world. However oil tycoon John Paul Getty (Plummer) refuses to pay leaving devoted mother Gail (Williams) desperately trying to sway him whilst her sons kidnappers get increasingly volatile.
What do you do when one of your lead actors, one whose performance is being geared up for Oscar nominations, is at the centre of multiple damaging accusations of sexual misconduct?! Well if you’re Ridley Scott, a man not known to hang around (this film comes but 7 months after the release of his last Alien: Covenant), you recast, reshoot and release in just 11 days! This fact alone should persuade you to check out this film, but the fact that the replacing actor in question dominates the film is even more worthy of your time. It is but a pity though that the film around him is mid-tier Scott.
Said actor is Christopher Plummer, and he is here playing John Paul Getty. Widely known to be one of the richest men who ever lived, a fortune amassed through harvesting oil in the Arabian desert and an affection for priceless art. Despite this vast wealth Getty is a tight, penny pinching old coot, desperate to prevent as much of his fortune from the tax man and his own family. Plummer is sensationally fascinating to watch, doddery but masking an inner core of ferocity and intelligence. Interestingly this could have been all we see of him and he’d still be a great watch, but the script by David Scarpa (based on the 1995 book Painfully Rich) sketches out other facets to this complicated individual. Getty loves his children, particularly young grandchild Getty the 3rd (more on him later), but moves them aside to concentrate on building his empire up. There is an anger in Getty, at his own father, at those who would seek to take his fortune, and even himself at the man he has had to become. Plummer plays all this with a subtle grace, whilst never forgetting to bring in a dollop of charming humour. Getty sees himself as a Roman emperor reborn, but Plummer makes this arrogant fantasy almost endearingly pathetic, a man desperate to have an importance beyond mere wealth. It is impossible to say what Kevin Spacey would’ve brought to the role, but I can’t imagine it would have had the same wit and playfulness as what Plummer brings.
The issue here though is Scarpa and Scott clearly prefer Getty to the rest of their story, a story that takes up the predominant of the running time. Plummer is only actually in a handful of scenes, but in each of them we see a different facet to his character. Normally if he were to be the focus of the entire film (or maybe even a longform TV show such as the one Danny Boyle is producing for FX about Getty) his character would be slowly developed throughout. In this instance Scott throws in every aspect of Getty, his daddy issues, family issues, legacy issues etc that it feels truncated, lessening both his story and the main thrust of the plot. A Citizen Kane style death scene feeling tacked on rather than eloquently built to. The bulk of the story concerns Getty’s grandchild John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer-no relation) on vacation in Italy in the early 70s and unexpectedly kidnapped in order to extort his grandfather out of $17 million. Elder Getty, unfortunately, refuses to pay, reasoning that if he pays out soon all his grandchildren will suffer the same fate, although it is evident there may be elements of his tightness at play here. This leaves the brunt of the negotiating on the shoulders of the boy’s mother, Gail.
Gail soon discovers that negotiating with nothing does not last long and desperately tries to persuade Getty to pay up. Michelle Williams is terrific here, giving Gail a formidable core of stubbornness that regularly takes those around her by surprise. No more is this felt than in the scenes she shares with Plummer, the two of them going to town on one another, her barely keeping things together and yet sucking it in in order to trump the man who is causing her so much trouble. Despite Williams’s best efforts though the script never stresses the bond between mother and son. You feel her pain in fleeting moments yet there are no scenes of them before the kidnap to build that bond, similar to how we see her interact with her other children. She seems to be playing at being a mother, which I can’t help but feel is the scripts fault not Williams.
Into this mix Getty sends his head of security and general fixer Fletcher Chase to help get the boy back, with Mark Wahlberg playing him as well… Mark Wahlberg. Cocky, street smart and wearing glasses to prove he’s in serious mode, it is a simplistic performance written with little comprehension for any sort of character arc. There is some hint of a relationship between him and Gail alas that fails to build any steam. More successful is the interesting dynamics that the kidnapped Getty has with one of his captors Cinquanta played by Romain Duris. Cinquanta appears to genuinely care for the young man, Scott even hinting at a possible attraction through subtle touches, but is torn by his allegiances to the criminal gang behind the plot. Plummer is also pretty solid, selling the torment and confusion that being kidnapped would no doubt engineer.
As a thriller Scott builds decent tension, and in one horrific scene captures a moment of body mutilation that proves he is still the master of graphic on screen brutality. His skill at composing seemingly effortless shots of beauty present and correct, save for one sequence featuring Christopher Plummer in Saudi Arabia that suffers the consequences of its hasty reshoots, its background composition riddled with poor green screen. Elsewhere production values are high, the sun soaked fields of Italy as evocative as the lavish manors that Getty calls home. Kudos must also go to Daniel Pemberton’s layered energetic score for keeping the movement up even in the films more sluggish moments.
All the different strands at work in All the Money in the World would make an exciting film on their own, but as a whole Scott seems at a half measure. Unable to combine them altogether into a satisfying whole. The thriller aspects hit and miss, the true life parts frustratingly lacking big picture context (we only know that the Getty’s are well known thanks to the intense paparazzi always on the fringes) and on the border of it all a streamlined portrait of a uniquely captivating figure. In a film about having it all it seems Scott has absorbed a little too much of that ideal himself.
Verdict: Two storming absorbing performances and confident directorial hands just about overcome a film that never quite believes in its primary plot.