A World apart
Ridley Scott directs this entertaining but uneven true-life drama about the 1973 kidnapping of John Paul Getty III, a situation that dragged on for months when the teenager’s billionaire oil tycoon grandfather refused to pay his ransom. As is so often the case with Scott’s movies, All the Money in the World is impeccably mounted but disjointed as drama, a production design triumph with a shortage of substance, and only strong performances keep the film from falling apart.
Of course, one of those strong performances almost never happened. By this point, the onscreen story of All the Money in the World has been overshadowed by the offscreen drama, which saw disgraced actor Kevin Spacey’s scenes as the elder J. Paul Getty hastily re-shot with Christopher Plummer. I can’t review a performance I never got to see, but Spacey sucks, so it’s not hard to imagine him sucking as Getty. At any rate, Spacey never could have captured the vulnerability that Plummer manages to find in this unquestionably venal man. It’s a remarkable performance that the film doesn’t fully deserve.
If only Plummer could have also replaced Mark Wahlberg as Fletcher Davis, the ex-CIA agent and Getty employee who oversaw the ransom negotiations. It feels like a functional supporting role got beefed up to attract a star, as the film becomes overly interested in Fletcher’s moral “awakening,” which only distracts attention from the characters that really matter. Wahlberg makes matters worse by delivering a stiff and monotone performance—he’s the scowling square peg in this otherwise exceptional ensemble.
All the Money in the World opens on the decadent streets of Rome, as outlaws led by Cinquanta (Romain Duris) swipe the drug-hazed younger Getty (Charlie Plummer, no relation to Christopher) off the sidewalk and speed away in their minivan to a remote country farm. A famously stingy negotiator, the elder Getty was known as the world’s first billionaire, but he is unmoved by news of his grandson’s abduction, and he announces to the press that he has no intention to pay the ransom.
Behind the scenes, Getty assigns Fletcher Davis to oversee the investigation, but he seems just as interested in gaining leverage over Gail, his estranged ex-daughter-in-law. Although Williams adds additional layers to the character with her performance, Scott and screenwriter David Scarpa (adapting the book by John Pearson) largely define Gail by her disinterest in the Getty fortune. This family-first attitude renders her an unreadable opponent in the eyes of the elder Getty, who cares more about artifacts and paintings than he cares about bringing his grandson home in one piece.
Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski (who also shot Alien: Covenant, the other film that the octogenarian Scott released this year) does excellently polished work here, his camera athletically following characters through crowded spaces and down narrow corridors. A cat-and-mouse chase through narrow cobblestone streets at the end feels tacked on, but the images are still powerful. Some people simply can’t be replaced by Christopher Plummer.