'All the Money in the World'
‘All the Money in the World’ is a perfectly decent Hollywood thriller. It’s a little heavy-handed and often sinks under the weight of its ambition, but in the pantheon of half-thought-out late Ridley Scott pictures, it’ll hold up well enough. However, the film will now be enshrined into Hollywood history for its behind-the-scenes turmoil. Unfortunately, that bit of trivia is likely a better story than anything actually in the movie.
For those who hadn’t heard, the film as originally shot featured an awards-bait performance by Kevin Spacey. When the actor’s predatorial past caught up with him in the fall, there was no way the studio was willing to fund a holiday marketing blitz and awards campaign for the second most hated man in Hollywood behind Harvey Weinstein. Sony could have shelved the movie for a few years to see if the star’s tarnished reputation would change, or even just sucked up the $40 million loss and called it a day, but Ridley Scott had another idea. He managed to call in some favors and hastily replaced Spacey with Christopher Plummer in a lightning fast nine-day reshoot. Then he reedited and mixed the movie in a few weeks so that ‘All the Money in the World’ could make its planned release date. Aside from one awkward shot (which is in the trailer), you’d never know there’s was so much last-minute tinkering. Plummer’s subtly evil performance is even the best thing in the movie. Everyone got lucky with this gamble, even if the film never quite lives up to the stunt or the performance.
The story hinges around Plummer’s portrayal of billionaire J. Paul Getty, even if he isn’t the protagonist. Getty made his fortune pulling oil out of the Saudi desert, and by the 1970s was richer than any single man had ever been. Around that time, his grandson (Charlie Plummer, no relation) was kidnapped and held for a $17 million ransom. The boy’s mother (Michelle Williams) was desperate to get grandpappy to pay, but even though he could easily afford it, Getty refused. Instead, he assigned his ex-CIA security official/negotiator, Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg), to track the kid down, or at least lower the price. The drama stretched on for months with the corrupt Italian police force offering little to no help. Chase was able to talk down the price, but things went from bad to worse when the Mafia bought the boy and resumed the ransom. They had ways of getting attention, like maybe cutting something off the boy and sending it as evidence. Classic Mob stuff.
The film is based on a non-fiction account of the actual events, but has obviously been stylized for maximum movie impact. The whole thing has been ratcheted up as a thriller with plenty of subtext about how wealth corrupts the soul that gets hammered home so hard it becomes text. (You better believe that the title is used as spiky dialogue. Multiple times even. You gotta ensure people get the point.) The “Capitalism corrupts” message might be beaten so hard into the heads of viewers that it could cause brain damage, but it’s relevant (especially in light of a certain recent tax bill).
Plummer is brilliant as the embodiment of greedy evil. He’s likely a better choice than Spacey, never growling or reveling in evil but playing the role more as benevolent with sinister intentions. It’s easy to see how Plummer’s Getty could have seduced so many. When his darker intentions creep out beneath the actor’s smile, it’s even more disturbing that he isn’t leaning into the darkness.
The thriller half of the film is a mixed bag. It’s stunningly shot by Scott through a series of rigidly composed frames and liberal use of ’70s faded film stock and color filters. Unfortunately, while Ridley Scott is brilliant at conceiving and crafting sequences, he’s not particularly gifted as a feature-length storyteller and is dependent on his scripts and editors for structure and pacing. ‘All the Money in the World’ is a bit sloppy and inconsistent in that regard. Some scenes are horrifyingly tense, while others ring false and dull. It varies from scene to scene and depends on the actors. Some are strong, especially Michelle Williams and Plummer, but others (namely Mark Wahlberg) look lost and out of place, which tends to take you out of the picture.
When Scott’s new film clicks, it can be a hell of a thriller executed with expert craftsmanship and just enough wise ideas to feel like something more. When it’s off, it’s clunky dullsville. Fortunately, the film works more often than not and is worth seeing for Christopher Plummer’s performance alone. It’s amazing that Scott and crew were able to reshoot so much so quickly, and the stunt undoubtedly improved the movie in a number of ways. ‘All the Money in the World’ is far from perfect, but all things considered, this one could have been so much worse.