Behind-The-Scenes Intrigue Can't Save "All The Money In The World"
However – and it’s a big however – Sir Ridley Scott is known for nothing if not his ability to work quickly and resourcefully. On the cusp of his eightieth birthday, the director opted to recast the role of Getty with Hollywood luminary Christopher Plummer, reshoot and re-edit nearly a third of the film, and make a slightly adjusted release date: it was pushed back three whole days.
The 1970s period piece about the kidnapping of Getty’s grandson Paul and the miserly oilman’s refusal to pay the ransom will justifiably go down as one of the great moviemaking feats of all time; an impossible rush job whose seams are nearly invisible. Only one shot is noticeably computer-enhanced and Spacey appears, in profile, in a single wide shot. There’s also the complication of co-star Mark Wahlberg’s fluctuating weight, but no matter. Ridley Scott and the crew behind his 40 million dollar endeavor effectively, miraculously erased an actor from a film in mere weeks.
The folks behind the 300 million dollar plus “Justice League” couldn’t successfully erase a mustache in four months.
Unfortunately, separating “All The Money In The World” from its editing suite drama results in something far less impressive. In adapting John Pearson’s book Painfully Rich, scribe David Scarpa (2008’s reviled “The Day The Earth Stood Still” remake) took on the Sisyphean feat of a making cinema of a relative non-event. The 1973 kidnapping of 16-year-old Paul Getty in Rome made media waves because of the inaction of the boy’s penny-pinching grandfather. As inaction isn’t particularly filmic, Scarpa is left to mine the story’s players for psychological profiles that neither he nor Scott seem particularly interested in.
Paul’s resilient mother, Gail Harris (Michelle Williams), is the closest the movie comes to a fully developed character, but even she exudes one-dimensionality. Williams is good in the role, doing diligent work as the unappreciated rock of the fractured Getty clan, yet the film never commits to her as its lead. Scott kicks things off with narration from Paul (Charlie Plummer) that’s summarily abandoned, bouncing around between flashbacks and contemporaneous scenes for nearly a half hour as it establishes J.P. Getty as a distant, inaccessible, filthy rich twit.
From there the screenplay awkwardly juggles Paul’s imprisonment with Gail’s appeals to her father-in-law to pony up for the 17 million dollar ransom. The boy’s rapport with an empathetic kidnapper known as Cinquanta (Romain Duris) is effective but dissipates when both disappear for long stretches of the film. Meanwhile, Wahlberg’s ex-CIA agent Fletcher Chase does a solid impression of a defective Whac-A-Mole machine, popping up infrequently in a mission to help Gail find her son. The character makes so little impact that Wahlberg might as well have been erased from the film, too.
Scarpa’s screenplay isn’t action-packed or suspenseful enough to function as a thriller and lacks the will and the insight to work as a character piece, only sporadically giving us reasons to care. The late-game casting of Plummer as the famous oil magnate with all the warmth of a velociraptor is a dream, but the elderly character inherently has very little to do but traverse his vast estate. Only when Chase dares to call him a “rapacious old fuck” to his face does Getty meet any kind of match, and then the film is over.
There’s scarcely a moment in “All The Money In The World” that rivals its off screen drama – not even when Paul’s sliced-off ear is famously mailed to his family as a last ditch effort on the part of the kidnappers. Ridley Scott and his cast and crew deserve a mountain of praise for what they’ve accomplished over the past two months. If only it added up to more than a listless swatch of non-fiction.
Rating: ★★ 1/2 out of ★★★★★ (Mediocre)
Release Date: December 25, 2017
Studio: TriStar Pictures (Sony)
Director: Ridley Scott
Screenwriter: David Scarpa
Starring: Michelle Williams, Christopher Plummer, Mark Wahlberg, Romain Duris, Charlie Plummer, Timothy Hutton
MPAA Rating: R (for language, some violence, disturbing images and brief drug content)