“All the Money in the World” (2017)
Written by: David Scarpa
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Featuring: Michelle Williams, Christopher Plummer, Mark Wahlberg, Romain Duris, Andrew Buchan, and Timothy Hutton
John Paul Getty III: [voice over] “To be a Getty is an extraordinary thing. My grandfather wasn’t just the richest man in the world, he was the richest man in the history of the world. We look like you, but we’re not like you. It’s like we’re from another planet where the force of gravity is so strong it bends the light. It bends people too.”
This is the second film to be released this year directed by Ridley Scott who for some time now has upped his output to the point where he can direct a huge studio movie like “Alien: Covenant” (2017), then produce a more personal thriller like “All the Money in the World” (2017) where the measure of success is not only measured at the box office but also in execution, as well as critical acclaim, with awards thrown in for good measure. This is a story that Scott has wanted to tell for some time, as it seems to hint at what it means to be human as well as the foibles that are unavoidable when making a life as well as decisions that collide with other peoples lives. In terms of that we through John Getty are witness to a man with one goal in life that is subservient to nothing, not even his own family – Scott has succeeded in bringing to life a true villain that today would be worshipped as a head of industry or even a President.
Of course one of the scandalous aspects of this movie was the fact that Kevin Spacey had been cast and filmed as J. Paul Getty one of two key characters in the film. With the sexual misconduct allegations made against him in the press director Ridley Scott made the unprecedented decision with four weeks until release to refilm Spacey’s part with a new actor, in this case Oscar winner Christopher Plummer. It would be incorrect to say that the new parts are flawless but they do fit in well, if you aren’t looking for the patched parts you will be fine, but they do exist. What is incontrovertible is that Scott has created a new movie that is a grade A thriller based on true events.
“All the money in the World” concerns a young John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer) who is kidnapped by an organized crime ring, his mother, Gail (Michelle Williams), desperately attempts to convince his wealthy grandfather, oil tycoon J. Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer) to pay the ransom. When he refuses, Gail allies herself with Getty’s business manager and former CIA operative Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg) to set her son free, or convince Getty to change his mind before it’s too late.
This is a movie made for great performances by very different actors that need to sell you on the conceit of the movie, which by and large is fairly simple from the outset. The story of people kidnapping others is not new, there have been many fiction as well as non-fiction stories told across many mediums with outcomes that are all similar, that is where this story is different as the person who could pay the ransom refused to, on some grounds that are understandable (those public ones) as well some grounds that are not (his private motivations).
The cast that has been assembled is great starting with the now infamous recasting of Christopher Plummer as the elder Getty who one can at moments sympathize with, but ultimately the reasons for his refusal is maddening as well as completely insane. Of course an actor of Plummer’s stature plays him without an element of archness so as to make him a human being, with faults and all. Getty was a human being so Plummer plays him as such with motivations that may be foreign to many of us, but he has the talent to make him relatable at least to many of his own brood. Rounding out the cast of main characters are Michelle Williams as Gail Harris, Mark Wahlberg as Fletcher Chase and Charlie Plummer as John Paul Getty III. Before all the notoriety the star of this film was the talented Michelle Williams who has been nominated multiple times for Oscars without winning, this film is her best chance in ages, with a starring role that has already garnered other award nominations. Williams here, plays a mother who has one overriding aim, to get her son back, so she is stuck between kidnappers who are desperate to receive a ransom, and an old man who is desperate not to pay it. The way in which Williams does not play to a type is revelatory in its simplicity. Then there is Mark Wahlberg as a kind of negotiator who runs a relationship between Getty Senior, the kidnappers and Williams’s character all to varying degrees of success. There is no doubt that Wahlberg is trying to take on challenging roles that test his ability as well as hopefully improving it. Here he does a passable job of creating some kind of character, but when his scene partners are Williams and Plummer he comes off second best, as well as under whelming. Finally there is relative newcomer Charlie Plummer as the kidnapped Getty who spends most of the time with his abductors, as well as in relative silence, he also has to do a tremendous amount of physical acting that he carries off extremely well – he is possibly the most underrated performer in this film, but comes through with flying colors.
For directors Ridley Scott who is possibly the biggest star of this endeavor, it serves as his most under stated as well as muted movie since possibly “A Good Year” (2006) which in contrast was a drama so could rely on subtle performances by then newly minted Oscar winner Russell Crowe and future Oscar winner Marion Cotillard. With “All the Money in the World” Scott has to maintain a balance between a true story, embellishments that have been made, the three main characters as well as the genre elements, those being a taut thriller. To his credit this is all done extremely well, it is also the most muted looking movie Scott has ever made, for a change he is short on the visual and long on the plot. I think this is a very good movie for what it is, however there are some issues more based around the general plot than the actual narrative, after a while I just felt like I was watching super rich peoples problems which in and of itself is actually pretty boring. For me the attraction are the performances as well as the kind of person Wahlberg’s character of Chase is and becomes, with a stellar scene with Plummer towards the end of the movie, it would have been nice maybe to have had a better actor of characters than the movie star Wahlberg is – at some point making less big budget movies is something he may like to try for a few years, especially with how they are turning out, that is dreadful.
For a true story that has been all but forgotten “All the Money in the World” has turned out extremely well, it also plays better having a legend like Christopher Plummer playing someone close to his own age with all the fears as well as fallibilities that come with that – I can see him bing recognized at some point for this performance. This is a movie that is always going to have the odor of Kevin Spacey around its neck, which is a shame to say the least. This is a very good film that tells an interesting story; technically it is very good with it probably being Scott’s best and most even movie since American Gangster (2007), coincidentally another true story. The same things I loved about that movie are true with this new one. There are few technically proficient directors working today, with this film Scott confirms it. This is a movie worth checking out at cinemas; it is a smart, mid-level budgeted adult thriller, something rare these days.