Here’s a link to a new Vanity Fair article detailing the full story of the kidnapping J. Paul Getty III. Reading it would be a better use of your time than going to see All the Money in the World, Ridley Scott’s meandering dramatization of the early 1970s event which saw the richest man in the world (oil tycoon Paul Getty) refusing to pay the ransom when his estranged, teenage grandson was kidnapped in Rome. The film invokes its own title two separate times to get at what could make a man who has all the money in the world refuse to part with any of it to save his own blood. However, apart from inspired performances from Christopher Plummer and Michelle Williams there’s nothing here you’ll remember after leaving the theater.
Yet All the Money in the World is actually historically important. This is the movie that put everyone in Hollywood on notice: you can be taken out of an otherwise completed film with astonishing swiftness. Shortly after the world discovered the depth and history of Kevin Spacey’s sexual predation, Ridley Scott cast Christopher Plummer to replace Spacey as the elder Getty in the film and convinced Mark Wahlberg and Michelle Williams to return for 9 days of reshoots over Thanksgiving, a mere 6 weeks before the release date. 22 scenes had to be redone, and from the looks of it at least one of them – Plummer’s very first as Getty when he simply gets out of a car and stares at the camera – was achieved, unconvincingly, via green screen. Otherwise, the effect is seamless.
No live-action film has ever undergone such significant reshoots so close to its release date. The considerable cost (Scott says it took millions to get it done so fast) means this particular nuclear option won’t be available to all productions looking to entirely erase and replace an actor’s performance. However, the precedent has been set.
The irony is Plummer should have been playing the part in the first place. It didn’t make sense to cast Spacey and have him play nearly three decades above his actual age via old age makeup when an actor of Plummer caliber was ready and available. Seemingly invigorated by the challenge of putting together a character so quickly, Plummer delivers exactly the type of career-capping performance which plays like catnip to the Academy, and is so good here you can’t possibly imagine someone else playing the part even though you know he’s actually Spacey’s last-minute replacement.
The problem is once the curiosity of “how’d they pull it off?” passes the film fails to hold your attention. It’s slow-moving and overly jumbled in an opening first half which zigs and zags between different time periods (and color and black & white) without rhyme or reason. Moreover, it’s so concerned we won’t care about the story’s rich people problems that a tacked-on voice-over literally has J. Paul Getty pleading with us to try and understand that rich people were just like us once (apparently asking us to ignore the notion of inherited wealth).
Wahlberg’s former CIA agent, employed by Getty to assist in retrieving his grandson, spells that out even further for us when he tells Williams (playing the younger Getty’s mother, who married into and divorced out of the Getty family and was struggling financially at the time of the kidnapping) that negotiating with rich people is always more about what they didn’t used to have versus what they want now. The idea being there’s always some impoverished childhood, tortured past, or challenged relationship with a father which is at the heart of their money mongering.
That, in a way, could have set All the Money in the World up to be something special or at least interesting for its timeliness. We’re living through a period where trickle-down economics has come back with a vengeance, outwardly pledging to save an economy which sees the gap between the 1% and 99% widening to historic levels while inwardly simply aiming to line the pockets of the rich with lucrative tax cuts. At the same time, women are striving to topple the patriarchy, crack into male-dominated industries, and take down old sexist ideas that refuse to go away.
All the Money in the World reflects all of that in its 70s-set tale of an obscenely rich man who talks of his love for tax deductions about as much as normal people talk about the weather (seriously, Plummer mentions taxes in just about every scene), and a concerned mother separated from her son not by kidnappers but instead by corporate politics (personified here in the form of a sea of male lawyers and Getty) prioritizing money over human life. How far would or even could a mother go to save her son in such a situation? And what exactly makes a person like Paul Getty tick?
When the movie tackles those questions head-on it’s at its absolute best, such as during one heartbreaking sequence following Williams from museum to museum to have a priceless art piece assessed and hopefully sold to raise ransom money only to learn Getty lied to her and her son about how much it was actually worth. Generally, when All the Money in the World leans on Williams or Plummer for that kind of acting it soars. However, there’s a crucial third party to all of this in Wahlberg, who never manages to look like anything other than an actor acting instead of truly inhabiting the character.
Beyond that, the story never feels properly balanced between its three poles – drop-insa on J. Paul and his kidnappers, Williams and Wahlberg working with Italian police to locate the kidnappers and save J. Paul, and Wahlberg giving Plummer status updates and mostly listening to his monologues about how rich he is. The most consistent through-line seems to simply be that Rome sure is pretty, an awful lot of people smoked back then, and having all the money in the world is more a symptom of a God complex and underlying pathology than simple greed.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Plummer impresses and Williams holds our attention through sheer tenacity. However, the movie isn’t worthy of either of them. So, skip All the Money in the World. Wait for Danny Boyle’s Trust, the 2018 FX TV series dramatizing the same story.
RANDOM PARTING THOUGHTS
- The kidnapped J. Paul Getty had several siblings back at home safe with his mother. All the Money in the World has almost zero interest in this fact.
- Mark Wahlberg generally struggles as an actor when he has to play hyper-intelligent people. He’s even said he only ever did The Happening so he could play a smart person for a change, in that case, a science teacher. That didn’t work out so well for him there and it doesn’t here either, which is deeply unfortunate since the most important turn in the movie hinges on a blistering speech his character delivers to Getty.