Does it really pay the cost to be the boss? Depends on who you’re dealing with. In 1973, the richest man in the world happens to be John Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer), amassing his immense fortune in oil. No kids of his own, but he has fourteen grandchildren, one of them being John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer). Getty the Third happens to be the elder’s favorite grandson, even seemingly considering the idea of giving the family business to the youngster in the event of his passing.
When you’re as rich as Getty, everyone knows, and will do anything to get a cut. Masked men take the grandson, and demand 17 million from the billionaire in exchange for his life. This angers and scares Gail (Michelle Williams), the mother of the kidnapped, who does not have the cash to pay ransom despite marrying into the family. Her pleads to Getty to pay are unsuccessful, as he deems the price too high. But wanting his grandson to return unharmed, he sends hired help in the form of Getty Oil and ex-CIA operative Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg) to investigate, and more importantly—to negotiate—a cheaper figure before the youngest Getty is lost forever.
Slow down? Not in Ridley Scott’s lexicon. At the ripe age of 80, the director has had quite the busy 2017, producing Phoenix Forgotten, Blade Runner 2049, and Murder on the Orient Express, along with directing (and serving as a producer) Alien: Covenant and now his latest in All the Money in the World. Receiving initial heavy chatter for the late and extensive production changes, the final product stands as a wonderfully dark, “biographical” thriller.
Of course, the production changes and re-shoots are the story of All the Money in the World, an unfortunate result attributed to the sexual misconduct allegations of previous star Kevin Spacey. In his stead, Scott went ahead with Christopher Plummer in the John Paul Getty role, a move that feels pretty masterful and even an upgrade. There’s a significant level of gravitas, world weariness, and larger-than-life aspect that the 88-year-old Plummer brings to his scenes and dialogue—all without additional makeup or effects. His warped logic and stoic personality in the midst of disaster is special and troubling to watch. As good as Spacey can be, I’m not sure if he’d bring the same effect. Perhaps one day, we’ll see the cut or at least extended scenes that feature him to know for sure.
Let’s not forget Plummer’s leading co-stars, who also happened to be Spacey’s for a long time. Michelle Williams just continues to prove how much of a talent she is, her desperate mother serving essentially as what the audience sees and feels. Her steadfastness and firm moral center gives heart and relatability, making her an easy character to get behind in a world full of people looking to make an easy buck or save one. Some of her screen-time is shared with Mark Wahlberg, believable as a man who’s driven by duty to take the emotion out of everything but slowly turning to realize what is truly important.
Wahlberg, somewhat shoddy bespectacled look and all, takes a little time to find a groove, like the movie and its script. Scott and screenwriter David Scarpa, adapting from John Pearson’s book, struggle to find a solid pace and even tone for the first 20 or so minutes, showing Getty’s rise to power and how things came to be in his immediate family before 1973. Most of it is necessary for the events later, but cleaner editing would have helped for the nonlinear storytelling to feel less rough around the edges. Once All the Money in the World starts going, however, the vice grip on the audience is never lost.
Ridley’s latest is less of a biography and more of a straight-up crime drama/thriller. On the former front, All the Money in the World is a little lacking if working with that belief; do not expect a ton of central character depth. Like recent films in Dunkirk and Detroit, this chooses to focus on a specific, singled out event in a person’s life opposed to an overarching look at a life/lives or a series of events. The focus on this tense, dark drama makes for a run-time that flies by, even at two hours and ten minutes. Scott’s razor sharp direction and mood-setting makes for a gripping experience.
Making lemonade out of lemons, or rather, turning nickels and dimes into dollars, All the Money in the World is likely to be remembered more for what it was more than what it is. Hopefully that changes over time.
Photo credits go to cinemablend.com, vulture.com, and filmofilla.com.
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