Director: Ridley Scott
Screenplay: David Scarpa
Starring: Michelle Williams, Christopher Plummer, Mark Wahlberg, Romain Duris, Charlie Plummer
Runtime: 133 Minutes
It’s become increasingly apparent over the past several years that director Ridley Scott is at his best when working from a really strong screenplay, because his technical attributes as a filmmaker are the only things that seem to keep his focus when working on a production. He's more invested in the way he can make and present a movie as a technical exercise than showing any real interest in the stories he’s telling or how he’s choosing to tell them.
It’s the work of a master technician behind the film that manages to keep All the Money in the World is as watchable as it is, despite Scott’s superficial interest in the subject matter; that being the ‘inspired by true events’ story of wealthy industrialist J. Paul Getty's (Christopher Plummer) stubborn refusal to cooperate with the extortion demands of a group of kidnappers from the organized crime Mafia group 'Ndrangheta, who abducted his grandson John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer) in 1973.
What works are mostly the incidental details of an escalating series of events following the kidnapping and his mother Gail Harris’ (Michelle Williams) attempts to reason with the kidnappers, with the help of former CIA operative Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg). The film hits large dramatic beats where it needs to and occasionally hits them rather well. The film takes its time to get to the infamous and grizzly detail of the young Getty’s ear being removed by the kidnappers and posted to the press, and lingers over the amputation sequence with graphic detail for the audience to wince at. The film looks really cold and deeply elegant at points where it wonders through the decrepit Getty mansions.
What works less is any of the truly compelling connective narrative and emotional tissue required to maintain a curiosity about the outcome. David Scarpa’s screenplay heavily alters events for dramatic effect in ways that don’t really pay off as intended, including a detail at the climax regarding the eventual fate of J. Paul Getty that feels trite and ill-judged. It extends to the characters as well who fit into their roles with steady performances but don’t feel like personal or even human figures for the most part.
Even with all the attention drawn to the production over its final months following the recasting and reshooting of all of Kevin Spacey’s scenes – who was originally cast as Getty – following sexual assault allegations, Plummer slips naturally into the role as a seasoned veteran of dramatic performance. Besides one or two moments that have clearly been digitally altered, and a weirdly noticeable colour correction made to his scenes (shot on digital as opposed to film at the last minute), Plummer is a compelling and compulsively watchable presence as the film’s most interesting character with the bleakest worldview of a worth in objects and people that he’d rather not waste any amount of his vast fortune on.
It’s only a shame then that he’s a much smaller role than many of the other characters, and nearly every line he speaks comes tainted with portentous and blunt verbiage. This is something that extends to the rest of the film and its dialogue as well, which feels mostly ominous but empty with swings at sympathy for one of the kidnappers (Romain Duris) and heavy-handed takedowns of who the real monsters might be.
Williams is giving the best performance as a determined and exhausted mother trying to bring her son home, but Wahlberg feels very miscast and is unable to deliver any line without sounding either sarcastic or reading it straight from the page on a first take. While relative newcomer Charlie Plummer gets some ground out of an admittedly thin character.
All the Money in the World gets by as a watchable crime thriller, but doesn’t do such a fascinating story the justice it probably deserves thanks to a gracelessly structured and bare screenplay that could have benefited from either a lot more humanity or a lot more distance and nihilism. This is not a great Ridley Scott film, but its greater crime is its unmemorable execution even given its troubled production history.