All The Money in the World
Okay, let me get this off my chest right now: Ridley Scott is a goddamn bad-ass. To touch briefly on the Kevin Spacey situation that broke out in the latter half of last year, this film had to either sink or swim based on Scott’s ability to reshoot all the crucial scenes with Spacey as J. Paul Getty with Christopher Plummer in the role. And all within less than a fortnight. That to me indicated that Scott and the people behind the film were committed to making this film work, and wash out the taste of . And was all that additional money and resources well spent? Is All The Money in the World worth that kind of last minute dash to the finish line, and where does it fit in Ridley Scott’s pantheon of films? Fortunately, it succeeds as a strongly directed hostage thriller, mixed with a comparatively slight character study of Getty himself and his family, held up by phenomenal performances by Michelle Williams and Plummer.
In 1973, 16-year-old J. P. “Paul” Getty III (Charlie Plummer), grandson of oil tycoon J. Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer), is kidnapped in Rome by an organized crime ring. The kidnappers demand a ransom of $17 million from Paul’s mother, Gail Harris (Michelle Williams). Through flashbacks we learn that Paul’s parents are divorced and Gail rejected any alimony in exchange for full custody of her children in the divorce settlement, so she does not have the means to pay the ransom. She travels to Getty’s estate to implore him to pay the ransom, but he publicly refuses, stating that it would encourage further kidnappings on his family members. The media picks up on the story, with many believing Gail to be rich herself and blaming her for the refusal to pay the ransom. Meanwhile, Getty asks Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg), a Getty Oil negotiator and former CIA operative, to investigate the case and secure Paul’s release.
As the true protagonist of the film, Williams as Gail Harris is incredible, coming across as a believably frazzled yet tough and determined woman, willing to put her life on the line to get her son back, providing the film it’s much needed heart in an otherwise cynical and fairly bleak film. Christopher Plummer in the now widely talked about role of J. Paul Getty is perfect casting. Not only does he resemble Getty in appearance and has a similar enough voice, the mannerisms are often uncanny at times, commanding your attention with sheer presence and slightly off-beat mannerisms. While not always a great actor, Wahlberg does very well here, with a role that lends itself to his relatively narrower set of acting skills, oftentimes overshadowed by Williams but certain revelations regarding his character (regarding his range of skills as a former operative) make his casting click that much more. As a relatively new actor, Charlie Plummer (no relation to the former) delivers a captivating performance as the kidnapped grandson, generating sympathy despite his characters’ privileged background. Romain Duris as Cinquanta, one of the abductors, leaves a chilling impression whilst still showing believable humanity to his role as Getty III’s sort-of caretaker and hiding his native French accent flawlessly. Of note is the fascinating captor-prisoner relationship formed between them that you easily believe thanks to their performances. In supporting roles, Marco Leonardi as Mammoliti, Cinquanta’s boss is a standout among Getty III’s kidnappers. Timothy Hutton as Getty’s attorney provides a good, grounded performance, while Andrew Buchan depicts an average man gradually becoming increasingly debased and stunted as John Paul Getty Jr, Getty III’s father.
The cinematography by Darius Wolszki is very strongly dark and desaturated, to the point of being grey and lifeless in Getty’s main scenes. This particular aesthetic is probably pushed a tad too hard, even if it does serve a point. Not to say it’s a constnatly ugly looking film; the way they frame the narrow, winding streets, or the wide Roman roads of the Italian cities towns at night are particular standouts, Rome is beautifully shot, and every camera move has a purpose and drive behind it. In almost every scene where Getty is featured in a sustained scene, he is steeped in luxury and riches, especially his vast English Tudor estate, decked with paintings, tapestries and suits of armour, dimly lit and shot expertly by Scott and Wolszki. It adds to the grand, almost kingly presence he’s accrued for himself, leaves an indelible impression, much like the vast halls of Charles Foster Kane
Tension and suspense rides high during the many scenes with Getty III and the kidnappers, keeping you wondering just what they’re going to do to him next and if he can indeed escape and reunite with his family. There are times when you wonder if there is hope for him, only for the rug to be pulled from underneath in crucial moments.
The score by Daniel Pemberton is very good, displaying solid, often exciting action cues, but thrives with the sinister, operatic (also making effective use of a choir) and grand musical cues in the presence of Getty and his vast displays of opulence, at times channeling the ominous themes of Commodus from Hans Zimmer’s Gladiator, whilst also having a spring and energy to it.
The film’s narrative jumps around in time at the very beginning – in order to establish both how John Paul Getty made his fortune and how his grandson, John Paul Getty III, became an important part of his life – but unfolds in a linear fashion thereafter, zeroing in on the younger John Getty’s kidnapping. The pace is admittedly slow and unsteady at first, and the story itself felt rather dry and difficult to get invested. While it gives context to what we see later in the film, the narration in the first few scenes is a tad forced and doesn’t really matter in the long run. By the second half, those flaws in the first half are largely rectified and it kicks into another gear.
In the last few years, we’ve seen major blockbusters undergo reshoots in (sometimes vain) attempts to change a movie almost from the ground up. This is without doubt an example of how reshoots should be done, making second runs at crucial scenes and seamlessly editing them together tightly and efficiently. However, flashback scene of Getty meeting in the Saudi desert contains rather a noticeable green-screen effect around the parts of the frame which Plummer has been spliced into. And the CGI touch-ups on Plummer to make him appear younger are exactly successful. Ultimately, given the expensive nature of the re-shoots, more so with the location shoot, this is forgivable as time and resources were constrained at around this time just before its release.
While it doesn’t dive deeply into the corrosive and corrupting influence of vast wealth on the human psychology, it does display how miserable that existence is, steeped in grey and an almost complete lack of colour. It drives home how soulless this man is. In this case, Scott’s chosen style is tied to the subtext of the film. Interestingly, the moments of bonding between Getty and his young grandson felt genuine, making Getty’s refusal of the ransom (even with the calculated logic behind his refusal) even more unsettling. Similarly, the initial depiction of wealth and luxury from a viewpoint of a poorer family makes the transition into it’s darker, grimier reality that much more powerful. This leaves Williams to carry the film for the most part, and showing a well disguised but never lost sense of faint optimism in the face of a dire situation.
Ultimately, All The Money In The World is a film that gradually grows on me over reflection. Taking aside the moving of Earth and Heaven to save the film from controversy, this is one of Ridley Scott’s better films, thanks largely to an engaging and believable script, trademark cinematography and standout performances, and overcoming a handful of narrative and structural shortcomings.