Directed by Ridley Scott (2017)
by GD Hoffman
All the Money in the World is classic Hollywood in all of the best and worst ways. It's taken from a true story, but one that is nearly 50 years old and generally no longer well known to today's movie-going audiences. At its center is an American oil tycoon who is extremely rich and eccentric. It features big stars, one of whom, Kevin Spacey, was replaced after the film was completed, requiring extensive reshoots and editing on a very tight schedule.
Spacey's erasure was due to the scandalous allegations involving him in the #MeToo reckoning, which allowed for director Ridley Scott to recast his first choice of Christopher Plummer in the role of J.P. Getty. Or so the story goes. Whether this was a simple opportunity on the part of Scott to correct the studio's insistence on the original casting, or a comment about the controversies and a showing of solidarity, or a protection of his investment is not for me to say. I assume it's all of the above, and I also expect that nobody will remember any of this – as it relates to this particular movie – five years from now.
Except Kevin Spacey, especially if All the Money in the World wins big awards. If so, this will all be a major part of Spacey's career unraveling. And it will be a noted cautionary consequence regardless. People watching All the Money in the World a few years from now might not know or care about who was originally meant to play Getty.
Or they might think it was always Christopher Plummer. His performance is exceptional and required far fewer prosthetics and makeup than a younger man aging himself upward would require. The role of Getty is essentially for a miser, beyond rich but cheap as hell. He famously said he would not pay the ransom for his kidnapped grandson because people would just kidnap the rest of his grandchildren. Plummer provides a cool ambivalence in Getty toward his family, demonstrating time and again that his fortune was built and maintained in this manner. He claims to have always had a preference for objects over people and he proved this by amassing one of the greatest collections of fine art in existence.
Plummer reinforces this perspective in just about every scene he is in. Getty's desire to keep his money closer than his family, and the fact that he has so much of it, money that is – although he does have fourteen grandchildren, only one of whom was kidnapped – serve the production in two ways. The first is for art direction, which is superb. The set design, locations, wardrobe, cars, suits, and secretaries all prove the point that this man was untouchably wealthy. Along with muted colors and slick cinematography, All the Money in the World is a flawlessly executed production, surely of award-winning caliber.
And yes, it's impressive that Scott achieved this level of filmmaking excellence with such a major revision, and at the age of 80 no less. But the product is a thriller. It's driven by hope and sympathy. A teenage boy gets kidnapped. His mother is desperate to get him back safely. The ransom could easily be paid by her extraordinarily rich ex-father-in-law. Except… except… except… first, we jump around in time to give some background on just how rich and bizarre life is for these people. There we learn that JPGII (Andrew Buchan) relocated his struggling family to Rome to take a job working for his father. That ends when he decides he'd rather drink and do drugs in Morocco.
The heart of this story belongs to Michelle Williams in her portrayal of Gail, JPGII's wife. She is a woman at a time when men ran the money and women had no place at the negotiating table. This theme is presented first in the form of a divorce proceeding where she sits on one side of a large conference room table with a single male lawyer. Opposite is her father-in-law, her soon-to-be ex-husband, and an army of lawyers. She knows she's in a room full of motherfuckers* and the film doesn't shy away from the power imbalance she faces. It's strong foreshadowing to how immovable they may likely be in a time when life and death are on the line.
Painting that line is probably the most creative aspect of All the Money in the World, a cinematic invention called Cinquanta. Played by Romain Duris with nuanced desperation, Cinquanta starts out as one of the nicer thugs in the gang of criminal kidnappers, who eventually becomes the hostage's sole keeper. Sure, we feel bad for the kid, JPGIII (Charlie Plummer, no relation) but we mostly feel it through Cinquanta. He doesn't want to do what he now has to do to see this through. Duris draws on a sympathy reminiscent of Barkhad Abdi's frantically determined but ultimately doomed Somali pirate in Captain Phillips.
Parallel to Duris would be the hopelessly miscast Mark Wahlberg as a former CIA negotiator turned private equity fixer for Getty. The role of Fletcher Chase calls for a polished confident intelligence that the action star just does not reach. Maybe that's the point, since his tactics prove inept, all the more setting the stage to showcase Gail's resolve. Still, it seems Wahlberg was another studio decision given his bankable range, but maybe Ben Affleck would have been better as the American version of a Pierce Brosnan-era James Bond wannabe.
The rest of the drama is perfunctorily displayed at best, although we do get to see the second goriest on-camera ear removal – behind Chopper, but ahead of Reservoir Dogs. Of course, there was never really a climactic chase like the one in this movie, but adding the sequence gives Cinquanta the redemption he deserves. Except that he probably never existed. JPGII wasn't much like the zombie he's portrayed as either, conveniently vanishing when the sunshine starts blowing up your ass during the denouement. And Getty died years later, not like, the same day his grandson was rescued. But you don't watch movies like this for historical perspective or significance. You look that stuff up after you leave the theater, and then you find out that the grandson had a horribly tragic life that was already at its peak in the opening shot of All the Money in the World, casually walking through 1970s Rome at age sixteen.
As proven by the multi-million dollar revision, All the Money in the World ultimately fails amidst its endless resources. It's too long and plays too many angles. Placing the focus more directly on Gail might have resonated with modern audiences looking for more than a predictably middling thriller.
*I would not usually include such an expletive in a professional review, however, in this case I use it with all the direct aggression it contains. The men described make it their business to fuck over women and mothers with such horrific disregard that their cruelty is truly unfathomable. Their crisp white collars and perfectly knotted ties simply hint at their behavior as entitled wealthy white men at a time when they had few significant adversaries.