It’s been almost impossible to avoid the publicity surrounding Ridley Scott’s polished-to-a-dull-sheen biographical crime drama “All The Money In The World” thanks to the scandal which engulfed its would-be star after allegations of his sexual predation came to light and Scott’s swift decision to excise the actor from the movie and reshoot all of his scenes with a new actor.
While wandering the streets of Rome at night John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer), grandson of the world’s richest man is kidnapped by Italian gangsters. Refusing to pay the ransom, Getty senior (Kevin Spacey Christopher Plummer) instead instructs his chief of security Fletcher Chase (Mark Whalberg) to investigate and assist his estranged daughter-in-law Gail Getty (née Harris) (Michelle Williams) on condition that it doesn’t cost him anything.
Ridley Scott fashions the true life events of the abduction of John Paul Getty III into a slickly crafted old-fashioned crime thriller. There’s barely a hint of the production shenanigans on screen save for one very early scene set in Saudi Arabia where Plummer blends in with the surroundings with all the subtlety and seamlessness of a “South Park”-style paper cut-out. While John Paul Getty’s on-screen role in the film is fairly minor, his presence permeates the very fabric of the movie, a brooding, malevolently disinterested presence looming over the lives of his children and grandchildren. The avaricious, parsimonious nature of the billionaire oil magnate fuels the drama and drives the tragic events as they unfold.
It’s easy to see why Christopher Plummer was Scott’s first choice for the role (until the studio persuaded him to get a more publicity-friendly marquee name – be careful what you wish for) – he’s magnificent in the role. Magnetic and beguilingly charming yet cold, ruthless and calculating, it’s only a few short weeks since Plummer played the archetypal rich callous miser Scrooge in “The Man Who Invented Christmas” and here he essays an altogether more repellent verisimilitude to Dickens’ creation’s real life counterpart. We’ll likely never know what Spacey’s performance was like, but given Plummer’s age appropriateness to the role, it’s unlikely that a heavily prosthetised performance would have been quite so compelling.
Of course, one of the perils of an emergency plumber is the call out charge, which pales in insignificance compared to the fee reportedly demanded by Mark Wahlberg for the required reshoots. Now while it might be true that Wahlberg is acting his socks off in this movie – he manages, for nearly whole scenes, to look neither angry and/ or confused all the time – he’s never anything more than merely adequate. There’s literally nothing he brings (apart from a hefty fee) to the role and production that couldn’t have been provided by dozens of other actors.
Michelle Williams, by contrast (and cost comparison), is astonishing. While Plummer grabs the headlines as the penny-pinching patriarch and Wahlberg basically remembers his lines and hits his marks, Williams shoulders much of the film’s emotional weight and delivers a powerful performance as the desperate mother, powerless and penniless dealing with the worthless weight of her famous surname and a world which simply won’t believe she doesn’t have the money. Thanks to the latest production revelations, there’s an added distastefully metatextual air to this story of rich men deliberately and maliciously withholding money from the women who need and deserve it most.
The golden tones and murky cinematography lend the movie a kind of forgotten, seventies-classic feel to the film but it’s rarely more than competent and despite the tension of the subject matter, feels sluggish through the middle act. While Scott would probably have preferred to have avoided a scandal, this otherwise handsome but unremarkable film may not have made much of a splash without it.