Movie Review: ‘All the Money in the World’ is Just Enough
After allegations of misconduct against star Kevin Spacey arose last fall, director Ridley Scott took an incredible gamble when he decided to replace his scenes as billionaire oilman J. Paul Getty in the already-finished All the Money in the World, reshooting the material with Christopher Plummer in the role mere weeks before the film was slated to premiere.
But as distracting as the knowledge that Plummer is a last-minute replacement (and eagle-eyed viewers may be able to spot Spacey in at least one scene), it’s one that quite clearly pays off: the scenes with Plummer as Getty are easily the best in the entire film. And possibly less distracting than the same with Spacey in old-age makeup would have been, allegations or not - a side-by-side comparison in a future release would make for a fascinating comparison.
All the Money in the World tells the real-life story of the kidnapping of Getty’s grandson John Paul Getty III in Italy in 1973, as mafia captors held him for months before a ransom of about $3 million was paid - down from the original $17 million demand.
J. Paul Getty has a relatively minor role in the movie: isolated at his sprawling country estate throughout much of the film, he initially refuses to pay the ransom - arguing that it would put his other 14 grandchildren at risk - before getting creative with the maximum-allowable tax-deductible sum and a loan to his son.
But Plummer’s portrayal looms large: not (exactly) the black & white villain that some of Getty’s actions may suggest, he’s a complex figure who values the concept of money above all else, and who is able to dictate much of the story here merely by possessing it.
That Plummer has scored an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor has been mostly credited to director Scott’s gamble, but it’s a finely-tuned performance that suggests more familiarity with the role than was the case - and it's a multi-layered characterization that may have scored Spacey similar recognition.
Also fine here is Charlie Plummer (no relation) as the grandson, John Paul Getty III, who takes us through the most exciting events of the movie - including a fictionalized escape attempt. But it’s his relationship with kidnapper Cinquanta (wonderfully played by Romain Duris) that makes one of the largest impressions in the film.
Cinquanta - also a largely fictionalized aspect of the film, who the younger Getty never saw in real life - is the opposite of Plummer’s billionaire: both are motivated by greed, but Cinquanta’s weakness is his humanity as he forms a reverse-Stockholm Syndrome bond with his captive (in real life, the captor did phone the boy’s mother for advice on keeping him healthy).
Both the kidnapping scenes and the thematic underpinnings with Plummer’s Getty are quite nicely relayed here by director Scott, from a screenplay by David Scarpa based on the John Pearson book.
But they aren’t the primary focus of the movie: instead, the film mostly follows the efforts of the boy’s mother Gail (Michelle Williams) in Rome alongside Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg), an ex-CIA negotiator hired by the elder Getty.
Here’s the problem: while Gail predicament is relatable and unfortunate, the efforts of Chase were infamously unsuccessful: he’s the one who advised Getty against paying the ransom while following dead ends in Italy.
And yet Wahlberg’s character is fashioned as something of a hero in this story, with the character saving Getty III from pursuit by the captors and getting a big dramatic scene where he tells Plummer’s character what he really thinks of all his money. Both scenes ring so false they threaten the good will the rest of the movie has built up towards the finale.
But All the Money in the World is entirely engaging, and a successful account of the kinds of themes and attitudes behind this story if not a satisfyingly accurate retelling of the story itself. That may come with Danny Boyle’s FX series Trust, an account of the same events with Donald Sutherland as Getty and Hilary Swank as Gail set to premiere later this year.