Is there any limit to what money can buy you? ask the richest man in the world, J. Paul Getty. In Ridley Scott’s newest film, ‘All the Money in the World’, we head to Rome in 1973. Masked men kidnap a teenage boy named John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer). His grandfather, Jean Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer), is the richest man in the world, a billionaire oil magnate, but he’s notoriously miserly. His favorite grandson’s abduction is not reason enough for him to part with any of his fortune. All the Money in the World (2017) follows Gail, (Michelle Williams), Paul’s devoted, strong-willed mother, who unlike Getty, has consistently chosen her children over his fortune. Her son’s life in the balance with time running out, she attempts to sway Getty even as her son’s mob captors become increasingly more determined, volatile and brutal. When Getty sends his enigmatic security man Fletcher Chace (Mark Wahlberg) to look after his interests, he and Gail become unlikely allies in this race against time that ultimately reveals the true and lasting value of love over money. ‘All the Money in the World’ is rated R for adult language, some violence, disturbing images and brief drug content.
There’s been plenty of trouble for Ridley Scott’s latest project involving the life of the world’s richest man. In November, the story broke about then Jean Paul Getty actor Kevin Spacey and his sexual advances towards then child actor Anthony Rapp. Once the story broke, Scott immediately removed the release date of December 9th, and decided for a Christmas Day release, scrambling to re-cast the film’s lead role with Christopher Plummer. The production had ten days to get ten million dollars worth of re-shoots done, and with Hollywood magic, here we are. ‘All the Money in the World’ was the film that I was anticipating the most during the Winter movie season, feeling the vibes of a fantastically edited trailer that immediately put me in the mood for a ransom thriller. Unfortunately, not all is as advertised with this picture, as Scott’s latest suffers from a lot of personal indulgence that sometimes gets his film lost amongst all of the material things that aren’t required in crafting an enticing slow-burner. I liked the film, but I didn’t love it, and that sense of minor disappointment from within seeps itself out the more that I think about it, leaving a finished product that while a miracle that it saw the light of day, wasn’t fully worth the hassle of everything that went into it.
From an environmental perspective, it’s easy to absorb the subtlety in detail that wonderfully charms this time-piece from start to finish. The film is set in the 70’s, so Scott feasts vibrantly on the opportunity to visually enhance the storytelling, while not taking away too much from the meat of the performances. This is a difficult thing to master because with too much faithfulness to the forgotten era, it can become its own gimmick within the film, and take away from those aspects that I previously mentioned. Thankfully, Scott is a pro at this particular sport, as the yellow tints of color that set fire to the foreign feeling cinematography by Dariusz Wolski, as well as the tastefully decadent costume design by longtime Scott collaborator Janty Yates, feel like a marriage made in Heaven that has spawned decades of Academy award recognition. Because the film is set primarily in Rome, it’s a no-brainer opportunity to entice the audience with Roman landscapes that echo the truly luxurious lifestyles that our depicted family have come to be known for, and the similarities in rise and fall events between the Getty’s and that of the Roman Empire feel closer than I could’ve ever imagined.
Where the film’s screenplay works for me is in the outsider’s angle that treats money like a slow-burning cancer that eats away the many who are involved with it. A wise man once said “More money, more problems”, and that sentiment couldn’t echo any louder than with a situation of this magnitude. While being rich has certainly been a blessing to Jean Paul, it’s cast an inhuman quality about his life that makes him feel personally untouchable and morally better than the people beneath his social stature. Beyond Jean, his only son also suffers the effects, taking a job with Jean early in the film that eventually leads to his and his family’s dramatic collapse. Money brings lots of allures with it, and Scott’s perspective on this gift is one that casts a big shadow over this family, bringing them more harm than good in the long run. I also greatly enjoyed the psychology that played into paying the ransom. Jean might be a rich snob, but there were moments when the film was allowing me to reason with this character, leading to worse things that could happen with that surrender. Where my problems lie with the screenplay is this being too strategic and not nearly enough intensity in keeping the over two hour runtime firmly in place. For my money, there’s a great lack of urgency that stands in place until the film’s final act, making much of the first half of the movie a mental endurance test that had me checking my watch frequently. Adding onto this are some liberties taken within the real life story that I can’t understand the reasoning for. The ending in particular has a noticeable blow that transpires that I guess was there to serve into the burdening moral lesson that Scott was aiming for. It’s strange because this happens out of nowhere with no building to this moment, and because of such, no real impact for when it finally does happen other than for everything to be tied up neatly with a bow.
The performances are mostly solid, led by Williams fiery unfurling as Abby, and the newly inserted Plummer whose impact can’t be understated. As this richly immense figure, Plummer commands Getty with this almost god-like quality, shifting through the hollow halls of his castle with enough confidence to inspire the gladiators of Rome to fight. For visual likeness, as well as overall performance, I think Plummer was the best case scenario for the film, and after seeing it, I can’t imagine this movie without the belief from his register for all of the jaw-dropping sentences that come out of his mouth. Williams continues to be one of my favorite female heavyweights going today. In this role, she’s the character that we as an audience identify most with, and it’s in Abby’s small stature where we see the biggest growth emotionally for a character, in terms of what has been taken from her long before her son disappeared. Williams has always thrived under the pressure of the lights, and with a cold stare that channels so much about love and loss, she once again feels clutch under the circumstances. If I had a problem with one role, it was definitely in Mark Wahlberg as this enforcer of sorts, who looks over Getty’s financial deals with muscle. I felt that this role added so little to the film positively, and Wahlberg himself feels shell-shocked in sharing the stage with two heavy-hitters like Williams and Plummer respectively. The biggest problem with Wahlberg isn’t even in his lack of personal touch on the character, but rather the lack of interest for his character’s vote in all of this that sometimes makes it feel like vital scenes are missing before he casts his judgement. It’s certainly easy to fall by the wayside of a talented cast, but Wahlberg’s lack of intensity or personality for this character drop him to a distant seventh or eighth in terms of importance to the screenplay.
THE VERDICT – ‘All the Money in the World’ is a good film that wants so desperately to be great, falling short when the bills of burden are finally tallied by the absurdly convenient ending. The masterful work of Williams and Plummer, as well as the winsome visual canvas, give you more than enough reason to see the film, but the lack of intensity casts a dry spell that will have you challenging yourself for reasons to stay. Scott’s second film of the 2017 year is much better than his first, successfully addressing the problems in post-production that almost doomed the film, but failing to address the mounting problems in withholding audience attention that decreases its value.