All the Money in the World (2017)
J. Paul Getty had a fortune. Everyone else paid the price.
The most interesting aspect of All the Money in the World is its behind the scenes drama, the real-life scramble to get the movie finished by its intended U.S. release date way more enthralling than the story being told on screen. You see, Ridley Scott’s dramatization of the 1973 kidnapping of J. Paul Getty III, the 16-year-old grandson of cold-hearted oil mogul J. Paul Getty (the then richest man in the world), was supposed to be a hot Oscar contender for Kevin Spacey, who played the Getty patriarch under layers and layers of rubbery old-age make-up, his performance said to be extremely compelling. The film, however, suffered a hit late October, when an article on Buzzfeed surfaced online, which detailed actor Spacey’s sexual advances towards Star Trek: Discovery (2017) actor Anthony Rapp when he was only 14 years of age, the piece released just two months before the film was slated to hit U.S. theaters.
With assault allegations pouring in, tarnishing Spacey’s bankable name, studio Sony and director Scott made a hasty last-minute decision to replace the disgraced star with the more age-appropriate Christopher Plummer, who’d previously been considered for the part and had recently portrayed the grouchy Ebenezer Scrooge in The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017). With operation ‘Spacey Replacey’ a go, Scott reshot 22 scenes involving Plummer in about nine days, with co-stars Mark Wahlberg and Michelle Williams coming in to assist in re-jigging the film. The end result is actually quite remarkable, All the Money in the World standing as a testament to the skill of Scott, Plummer and his team of talented filmmakers, with their eleventh-hour reshoots — bar an early sequence in the Saudi Arabia desert where Plummer looks like he’s been CGI’d in — fitting seamlessly into the picture.
With the politics out of the way, the movie opens in the streets of Rome in 1973, when young saunter J. Paul Getty III, aka ‘The Golden Hippie’ (Charlie Plummer, no relation to good ol’ Chris), is snatched from the streets and taken to a makeshift prison, where his abductors — led by Cinquanta (Romain Duris) — send word out to Paul’s mother, Gail Harris (Michelle Williams), informing her of the kidnapping and insisting she fork out a hefty $17 million for her son’s release.
Unable to shell out the cash, the distraught Gail turns to her loaded ex-father-in-law, J. Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer), for help, the stubborn multi-millionaire refusing to part with any of his money, stating that Paul was one of 14 grandchildren, and that giving into criminal demands would only encourage others to kidnap more family members. But, when the media catches wind of the lurid story, Getty asks a trusted associate, Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg) — a former CIA operative who now works for the heartless industrialist — to look into the case and hopefully aid Gail in securing Paul’s release (without dishing out a cent). What follows is a grueling six-month ordeal, with the hapless Gail doing all that she can to try and negotiate with the crooks and bring her son home in one piece.
Based on the 1995 book by John Pearson titled Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty, which was adapted for the screen by David Scarpa, The Last Castle (2001), All the Money in the World isn’t the nail-biting crime-drama it probably should have been, the flick more focused on procedure (along with showcasing shots of Getty strolling through the halls of his Citizen Kane-type mansion) as opposed to exploring its characters or seeing what makes them tick. Sure, Plummer’s Getty is a fascinating guy; an icy treasure hoarder who’d amassed an expensive collection of art and antiquities yet refused to pay any sort of ransom for his grandson unless he could claim it as a tax deduction. And yes, the 88-year-old does all that he can to make the apathetic monster his own, but Plummer’s Getty is ultimately underdeveloped, let down by a lackluster script that fails to humanize any of the action.
Given Ridley Scott’s aptitude behind the camera, it’s a shame that the movie’s pacing isn’t all that great either, All the Money in the World opening with a jarring nonlinear first act that keeps audiences at too far a distance. The film does pick up eventually with a graphic scene that sees the bandits remove one of Paul’s ears (to get his mom’s attention), while suspense builds when Chase and Gail begin to close in on the felons, other than that, All the Money in the World is pretty by the numbers. Heck, even the cinematography by Dariusz Wolski, The Martian (2015), is ugly and colorless, most of the movie taking place in cold, shady rooms, where characters churn out dry, dreary dialogue that isn’t terribly interesting.
With the exception of the magnetic Plummer, performances are rather systematic across the board. Michelle Williams is ‘okay’ as Gail Harris, a woman who married into the Getty family but rejected their extravagant, dysfunctional lifestyle, the former Dawson’s Creek (1998-03) actress putting on an odd upper-crust accent for the role. Mark Wahlberg, The Departed (2006), seems to have been cast for sheer star-power alone, his hunky boy scout looks grating against the hardened edge of Getty’s skeptical adviser, Wahlberg’s Chase initially suspecting the kidnapping as a hoax spearheaded by the teenage Paul as a means of getting his mitts on his grandfather’s loot. Elsewhere, French heartthrob Romain Duris, Heartbreaker (2010), is actually decent as Calabrian hostage taker Cinquanta, who ends up forming a caring rapport with the imprisoned teen, whilst Timothy Hutton, Beautiful Girls (1996), shows up as Getty’s attorney Oswald Hinge. Finally, telly actor Andrew Buchan has a small part as Getty senior’s neglected son and Gail’s ex-husband John Paul Getty II, who ultimately relocates to Morocco to do drugs with celebrities like Rolling Stones front man Mick Jagger.
Exploring themes of obsession, materialism and the corruptive power of wealth, the film’s title alludes to the fact that money can’t buy happiness, love or piece of mind, and, in this case, return my 132 minutes, as All the Money in the World is about as generic as Scott’s forgettable Body of Lies (2008) and Robin Hood (2010). In the end, given this fascinating true story, it’s a shame that I was most engaged when trying to figure out the specifics of how and where Plummer was substituted for Spacey.
2.5 / 5 – Alright
Reviewed by Mr. Movie