A film review by Craig J. Koban January 13, 2018

ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD jj
 

2017, R, 132 mins.

 

Michelle Williams as Gail Harris  /  Christopher Plummer as Jean Paul Getty  /  Mark Wahlberg as Fletcher Chase  /  Romain Duris as Cinquanta  /  Charlie Plummer as John Paul Getty III  /  Timothy Hutton as Oswald Hinge  /  Andrew Buchan as John Paul Getty II  /  Olivia Grant as Millicent

Directed by Ridley Scott  /  Written by David Scarpa, based on the book by John Pearson

My main issue with Ridley Scott's new fact based crime thriller ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD is that the late breaking story behind the scenes of the making of his film has not only overshadowed it...but it's also more compelling than the final product itself. 

Of course, I'm referring to the fact that as the film was nearing release Scott decided to recast Kevin Spacey in one of its more crucial roles - after a firestorm of sexual assault allegations were levied upon him - with a more age appropriate Christopher Plummer (more on that in a bit).  This move was not only completely unprecedented in recent Hollywood history, but it was also an audacious and risky one (to replace an actor, reshoot all of his scenes, and still get the finished product in cinemas within striking distance of its original release date - all with just a month to spare - is a staggering testament to Scott's skills as a filmmaker).   Plummer (whom apparently was Scott's first choice for his role, only to be stymied by the studio wanting a "big name" in Spacey) shot his scenes - with many of the original cast brought back on board - in just nine days.  The film was only delayed by three from its initial release day.  

That's simply incredible. 

 

 

What's not particularly incredible, though, is ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD, which has emerged from all of its pre-release notoriety as a mostly pedestrian and serviceable kidnapping thriller at best.  The film deals with American born British industrialist and oil tycoon J. Paul Getty, whom by the early 1970s was the richest man in the world.  In July of 1973 Getty' 16-year-old grandson Paul was kidnapped, leading to a ransom demand of $17 million.  Getty was a notoriously frugal man with his fortune and initially - and very publicly - declined paying the ransom, which he felt was the height of extortion.  Even though Getty most certainly had the necessary funds to ensure his son's safe return home alive, he nevertheless engaged in lengthy negotiations with the abductors to severely lessen the amount.  Paul was eventually set free, but the whole ordeal - which led to him being mutilated by his captors as a form of pressure tactics against the Getty family - left him emotionally destroyed.  He became a drug and alcohol addict and suffered a debilitating stroke as a result in 1981.  He then died decades later at 54 a very broken man. 

Those latter details are curiously left out of Scott's film, which seems to ostensibly focus on the whole painful and protracted ordeal that Getty put his family through in order to simply save a buck.  ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD does a fairly decent job - albeit with some awkward narrative detours and time shifts - to introduce us to all of the key players that would see this mentally traumatizing ordeal through.  The film opens in 1973 and showcases the unnerving kidnapping of Paul Getty (Charlie Plummer) at the hands of Italian thugs, who's then subsequently placed in a makeshift prison while the crooks proceed with their ransom demands.  Paul's mother, Gail (Michelle Williams), is financially ill equipped - as most would be - to come up with the relative fortune it would take to free her son, so she turns to her father in law in J. Paul Getty (Plummer), which he steadfastly refuses to do, based on his logic that if he were to give in then it would send a message to other criminals that the family can be easily bought off (that, and he was too cheap to pay).  Instead, Getty sends in his security expert, Chase (Mark Wahlberg), to help assess the situation.  The rest of the film follows Gail struggling to cope with reasoning with the kidnappers' demands while Getty remains stubborn in his conviction to not give in...even if it means irreparable harm being done to his grandson. 

The entire dynamic of the Paul Getty kidnapping is endlessly fascinating on multiple levels, especially in the manner that it's a tale of omnipotent greed and how rich people in places of authority and power can show such a shocking lack of mercy towards even loved ones in peril.  ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD is on solid ground when it hones in on the troubling family discord that permeates the narrative, highlighting a mother driven by compassion and worry over her son's well being, whereas his grandfather is more ostensibly focused on how to save the most money and securing his place atop the financial world.  Getty is not presented as a one note, black and white villain in the film; his reluctance to immediately free his son is rightfully scandalous, but he's more of a pathetic and lonely figure that has a better relationship with his material possessions than he does with his family.  He's more sad than pure evil, but, yes, he did unspeakably cruel things.   

Plummer drives this home in his quietly menacing portrait of a man of unfathomable influence whose own gluttony was his worst trait.  The 88-year-old veteran is not only age appropriate for Getty (seeing Spacey under pounds of makeup in early trailers for the film was a distracting sight), but he also pitch perfectly encapsulates a man driven by a clinginess to money, objects, and mind games of will that he believes he can win at all costs.  A lesser actor would have made Getty a full-on caricaturized antagonist of viscous unwaveringness, but Plummer injects sprinkles of humanity that come through the cracks, which makes the role so much more compelling.  The other performance standout is Williams, and if you're willing to turn a blind eye to the initial awkwardness of her Katherine Hepburn-styled enunciation (which comes off as heavily mannered at times), she nevertheless gives a thankless performance as her tormented mother that's both sickened by what could happen to her son, but remains deeply commitment and strong to fight the long battle of securing his release.   

Less authentically rendered is Wahlberg, who's six ways to Sunday badly cast and utterly out of his performance element as Getty's right hand man.  His performance is so nonchalant and lacking in intensity that you kind of have to wonder whether or not he had any idea what kind of character and/or film he was inhabiting.  The clumsiness extends beyond Wahlberg's casting, seeing as the opening stages of the film are strangely constructed, which tries to cover the history of Getty's rise to power in the oil market with strange flashbacks shoehorned in that disrupt the flow of the kidnapping plot.  The temporal segues the script makes are frequently jarring, not to mention how some subplots are carefully introduced, only later to be abandoned and never dealt with satisfactorily again.  Like, for instance, Chase's flirtatious banter with Gail and how he inserts himself into her life and children, becoming a surrogate father/husband to the divorcee.  Any hint of romance between the pair disappears, which begs the question as to why it was even referenced in the first place. 

There are also instances where the reshoots, rather regrettably, stick out like sore thumbs: Many moments involving Plummer and Wahlberg are patently obvious, seeing as the former's build becomes skinnier and hairline shrinks when compared to the scenes that preceded it.  There are also moments when Plummer appears to have been digitally inserted into already shot Spacey footage, but not to alarmingly noticeable effect.  All in all, ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD suffers from the JUSTICE LEAGUE/Henry Cavill moustache-gate in the sense that if you're aware that Plummer was a last minute replacement for Spacey then you'll undoubtedly be scrutinizing the new footage with him looking for continuity errors more than you would have if you were blissfully unaware.  I'm sure virginal viewers that had no knowledge of the backstage politics of the making of this film will be pretty oblivious to the alterations, but as for the rest of us in the know...they're hard to ignore. 

On one last positive, ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD is a refreshingly low key and understated film for Scott to tackle, especially after the creative failure of ALIEN: COVENANT.  I'll give him full props for making the daring choice of terminating one of the most decorated and well known actors in Hollywood at the eleventh hour and allowing another industry icon to pinch hit for him...and somehow make the film look relatively complete upon viewing.  My overall misgivings with ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD is that is plays more like an uninspired TV movie than a feature film.  In the end, the film is not entirely suspenseful nor thoroughly enthralling.  There's a compelling film - or even mini-series - to be made of Getty's life and his grandson's famous kidnapping, but ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD feels too abridged, too hastily scripted, and too misshapen to work as effectively as it wants to.  Years from now I surmise that it'll only be remembered for what happened before its release and not for the quality of what's contained within. 

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