All the Money in the World (2017)

2018 #121
Ridley Scott | 133 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.39:1 | USA, Italy & UK / English, Italian & Arabic | 15 / R

All the Money in the World

All the Money in the World does not star Kevin Spacey. But I expect you knew that. Indeed, if you only know one thing about the film, I expect that is what you know. Spacey’s firing, and his speedy replacement by Christopher Plummer, was such a big news story that it instantly became what the movie was most famous for — and, I suspect, is what it will always be most famous for, because the film itself isn’t good enough to transcend its own reputation.

Before I get into that, let’s do the film the courtesy of describing what it’s actually about. Based on true events, it tells the story of the kidnapping of teenager John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer, no relation) in 1973 thanks to his family ties: his grandfather, J. Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer), was the richest man in the world. He was also a miserly old codger who refused to pay his grandson’s ransom, and the film follows his daughter-in-law Gail (Michelle Williams) as she desperately tries to arrange to get her son back, aided by the employee Getty assigns to investigate the case, former CIA operative Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg).

Even before the point of contention that drives the plot, various examples are given of what a piece of work Getty was. Whether these are based on true stories or not, I don’t know, but the film seems almost heavy-handed in creating this impression. For instance, although he’s the world’s first billionaire, he’ll do his own laundry in his hotel bath rather than pay the hotel $10 to do it for him; or he’ll spend an hour haggling a poor beggar down from $19 to $11 for an item that’s actually worth $1.2 million — although it later turns out there’s another side to that story… not that the it paints Getty in any better a light. Anyway, it’s to Plummer’s credit that he can take this kind of material and make it work, especially considering it was captured in just nine days of shooting with very little prep time.

Can you put a value on a child's life? J. Paul Getty can.

When those reshoots were first reported, it was said to be possible because Getty wasn’t actually in the film much, so it wouldn’t take long to remount just his scenes. Then the film started screening, and critics said he was in a lot of the movie and the amount they must’ve reshot was phenomenal in such a short space of time. Personally, I think the truth is somewhere in between: Getty pops up throughout the film, and his presence is huge, but I’d wager his actual screen time is smaller than you’d think — similar to Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs, who notoriously won Best Actor from less than 25 minutes on screen, it feels like Plummer’s in it more than he actually is. That’s partly the film’s structure, but also the quality of his performance.

In discussing the reshoots, director Ridley Scott has commented on the differences between the two actors’ takes on the character (Plummer wasn’t shown any of Spacey’s performance before he filmed). According to IMDb, Scott felt Spacey portrayed Getty as “a more explicitly cold and unfeeling character”, while Plummer found “a warmer side to the billionaire, but the same unflinching refusal to simply pay off his son’s kidnappers.” I can’t help reading between the lines to infer that Scott felt Plummer’s performance was more nuanced, and therefore better. It beggars belief that Spacey was cast at all, really: Scott wanted Plummer, who was 88, to play the 80-year-old Getty, but the studio insisted on 58-year-old Spacey, who then had to be caked in prosthetics. Supposedly it’s because Spacey was a bigger name, but that much bigger? Really?

Anyway, it turned out for the best, because Plummer is probably the strongest element of the finished product. Although Michelle Williams is top-notch as ever, too. Mark Wahlberg has been worse than this, but he still seems slightly miscast. Ridley Scott, also, is not on top form, his direction merely unremarkable. Oh, it looks nice enough — it’s well done — but there’s little beyond glossy competence.

Negotiations

Arguably its biggest sin is that, for a movie about a high-stakes kidnapping, it’s remarkably free of tension. The closest is the climactic manhunt around a village at nighttime (an event which is an entirely fictional invention, incidentally), but even that doesn’t seem to ring all that’s possible out of proceedings. The blurb sells the film as a “race against time”, but it’s almost the opposite of that: the kidnappers hold the kid for literally months while the Gettys bicker. But maybe Scott wasn’t going for thrills? There’s definitely a thematic thing in there about wealth and power and what it does to people, and what that represents versus the importance of family or morals. But I’m not sure those issues are really brought out or explored either.

It leaves the film feeling not tense and on-edge enough to be a thriller, nor thoughtful and considered enough to be a message-driven drama. The real-life story behind the film is a compelling hook and definitely sounds like it’d make a great movie, but the conversion process has perhaps not done it justice. Maybe someone else should have a crack at it…

3 out of 5

Trust, a miniseries from Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy retelling the same events, begins its UK airing on BBC Two tonight at 10pm.

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3 thoughts on “All the Money in the World (2017)

  1. I detest the sight of Wahlberg in movies. He’s a smart cookie, a big-time movie and tv producer, and he evidently intends well, but he’s a lousy actor especially when he is hopelessly miscast as he is in films such as this. Crikey the man can drag a film down. Frown, fidget with glasses, repeat. Oddly enough he sells tickets so what do I know?

    Regards Ridley, I really think he isn’t making traditional thriller/action stuff anymore, even with material that possibly really needs that approach. He’s drifting towards the esoteric, and perhaps even teasing aspirations to be taken seriously like Kubrick always was. I’m not suggesting Ridley is in that bracket exactly, as his talents are really elsewhere (Kubrick could only have dreamed of making films as quickly and as polished as what Ridley manages) but I do feel that with stuff like this and The Counsellor he’s returning towards cinema like The Duelllists, say: mainstream cinema with pretensions, for good or ill, of arthouse cinema. Unfortunately the scripts aren’t good enough, aren’t as deeply considered as scripts for a Kubrick or Wilder film would be, which possibly lets Ridley down. But he’s in such a rush to shoot films these days he doesn’t seem to want to wait for a properly polished script.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Funny you should mention the scripts being a problem: I had a quote from some other review saved in my notes for this (which, obviously, I didn’t use in the end) about how Ridley’s a director who “perfectly matches the quality of the script he’s working with. Give him brilliance and he makes Alien, give him shit and he makes The Counselor, and give him mediocrity and he makes this completely mundane “thriller”.” Maybe he just needs to afford a bit more time in development. I don’t think he’s got anything scheduled right now, so maybe he’s doing just that.

      I also think that, if he is trying to be arthouse-y, maybe he should give up! His best work always seems to be genre fare, one way or another.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Alien was hardly a brilliant script, funnily enough- it’s a derivative b-movie script elevated by its art design and Ridley’s direction. It’s a very silly sci-fi horror made special by Ridley treating it like 2001 by way of Metal Hurlant. And I’m a fan who thinks it one of his best films. But I can see what that reviewer was getting at. He/she should probably have cited Thelma and Louise as one of his better screenplays instead, and Legend is a far worse script than The Counsellor, which, in it’s directors cut is a very interesting modern noir, for all it’s faults.

        Liked by 1 person

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