I’ll never quite understand the arbitrary changes tacked onto movies that are “Based on a True Story”, a trend that is particularly odd in All the Money in the World. This true-to-life horror story about J. Paul Getty and the dastardly kidnapping of his grandson focuses on Getty’s uncooperativeness in hostage negotiations but jumbles the real life numbers in order to gain what I must assume to be added dramatic mileage. It’s an odd lie (hence my paragraph-long nitpick), one that’s not fundamentally different from a teenage boy inflating how many women he’s slept with, that’s effectively there to emphasize just how much a misery bastard the infamous “Richest Man in the History of the World” truly was.
And he truly is a misery bastard. J. Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer seamlessly replacing a newly reviled Kevin Spacey) plays the tight-fisted American industrialist with a stern disregard for pretty much anything with a pulse. At one point, the man muses about his acquisition of things, reckoning that “I’ve yet to find a person who can match the perfection of things.” It’s not lost on this particularly critic that Plummer just played Ebenezer Scrooge in The Man Who Invented Christmas but at least that Dickensian invention, much like the Grinch to follow, had an eventual reckoning. A sizing up of the heart. Getty is pure coal to the core.
This particular chapter in Getty’s life begins when his grandson John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer, who sadly is not the aforementioned Christopher’s actual grandson, last name coincidence aside) is snatched up in Rome. His captors phone home where his concerned mother Gail (Michelle Williams) wails she has nowhere near the $17 million they demand as ransom. Getty, ever the penny pincher, throws his hat into the negotiation ring, saying he will pay a flat fee of zero dollars for the return of his (favorite) grandchild.
Ridley Scott fills out the story of Getty and his grandson’s kidnapping ably, combing thriller and action components over a tightly wound character study that focuses equally on Getty and Gail. A lot of conversation will be spend relishing the details of Scott’s reshoots and for good reason: they are, for the most part, seamless. With less than two weeks, Scott returned to square one, scraping every frame that featured Kevin Spacey’s made-up mug. You would think the evidence of such a rush job would be everywhere – it’s not.
There are moments where I fully expected Plummer to be shooting with a Wahlberg or Williams stand-in by the way the camera is positioned over their shoulder but then Scott will pivot hard right to capture both in the frame, proof that he’s pulling off the near impossible; a cute wink to the audience in the know. The sheer rapidity at which this monumental changeover occurred is enough to cement Scott as an inimitable talent even if All the Money in the World isn’t amongst his top shelf offerings.
There’s a lot that ultimately works to make Scott’s twenty-fifth film (no, seriously) an enjoyable thriller, not least of which is a yet another commanding performance from Michelle Williams and a cankerous, unscrupulous villain in Plummer. Scott keeps the movie bumping along, even though drags in spots and can’t really justify its over-two-hour runtime, jostling between the on-the-ground kidnapping and the efforts (or lack thereof) taken to retrieve Paul. On two sides, Gail and Getty stand, polar opposites in pretty much every regard imaginable: one a man whose very existence revolves around ticker tape, the other willing to forego a fortune to gain full custody of her children.
Bridging the gap between them is Mark Wahlberg’s Fletcher Chase, a former CIA operative brought on by Getty to retrieve Paul as inexpensively as possible. Wahlberg is half-decent in the role – and gets at least one notable scene – but he’s not really on the level of Williams or Plummer, doing his familiar confident Mark Wahlberg shtick but not really adding a ton to the proceedings along the way. Little moments like Marky Mark doing push-ups in front of a rotary phone seconds before it rings struck me as odd and out of place (Wahlberg’s contractually obligated beefcake moment?) and Money can struggle combining the quasi-hardboiled detective elements in with the larger themes of family, greed and power.
When All the Money in the World ended, my first instinct was to whip out my iPhone and dig a little deeper into what actually happened, finding myself shocked and horrified by some of the details of this case that didn’t find their way into Scott’s film. Truth may be stranger than fiction but it’s often sadder too, the epitaph to this story just as heartbreaking as a kid wildly out of his element getting his ear sawed off. And though All the Money in the World isn’t really of Oscar contender quality, Scott’s movie manages to turn the details of this grizzly crime into an engaging and star-fueled saga about how every single thing in the world can be bargained for, especially human life.
CONCLUSION: Ridley Scott’s ‘All the Money in the World’ will probably be remembered most for replacing Kevin Spacey with Christopher Plummer at the last minute – and for good reason. It’s a well-made, mostly captivating thriller that’s sure to be enjoyed by most – with some notable performances to boot – but remains a touch overlong, and a bit forgettable, keeping it outside the award caliber fare it evidently wants to be.