Dir. Ridley Scott
Starring: Michelle Williams, Christopher Plummer, Mark Wahlberg, Charlie Plummer, Romain Duris
All The Money In The World has had a rough time of it. Originally supposed to star Kevin Spacey (the film was finished, trailers with Spacey had been released), the decision was made to re-shoot all of his scenes in the wake of the accusations levelled against the actor. This gave Ridley Scott 8 days to re-shoot all the scenes with Christopher Plummer, and just over a month from the decision being made to the films release. Scott though is a director who prides himself on his ability to bring a film in on time and on budget. In this regard it’s a huge achievement. The change is seamless, and Plummer puts in a fantastic performance.
The film centres around the kidnapping of John Paul Getty III, played by Charlie Plummer, the grandson of the richest man in the history of the world, Jean Paul Getty. The kidnappers contact his mother, Michelle Williams’ Gail Harris, given a lot more to do here as the ex-wife of Getty’s son, than in The Greatest Showman, and demand a ransom of $17 million. Gail goes to Jean Paul to ask for the money to pay the ransom but Getty refuses, even though he inists he loves his grandson. He later sets his head of security, Fletcher Chase played by Mark Wahlberg, the task of bringing his grandson home.
The film plays out as a tense hostage movie, and a parable on how money distorts your world view, and how the world views you. It largely succeeds in delivering both. I mentioned Christopher Plummer earlier, and his performance is phenomenal, escpecailly when considering how short a time he had to prepare for the role. He plays Getty with a cold ruthlessness, but there is still emotion there. Whether an undercurrent of seething rage, or sadistic glee, there is always more going on. In the hands of a lesser actor, or a lesser director Getty would come across as an emotional black hole, detached from everything, but Ridley portrays him as enigma, with the characters in the film trying to figure out what makes him tick along with the audience. Ridley gives no definitive answers, but there is so much there for the audience to dig into and decide themselves. If Plummer gets all the headlines, it is to the disservice of Michelle Williams, who plays Gail Harris with a huge amount of strength, and grace under pressure. She gets the films best lines as well telling her husband that “we’re not poor, we’re broke”, and when bargaining with the kidnappers for more time she pleas “I’m fighting an empire here.” It’s a great performance from one of the most underrated actresses working today. Mark Walhkberg also impresses with a more understated turn.
There is so much to enjoy about this movie. It’s an intriguing character study, but as said before it’s also a taught thriller. Ridley Scott’s direction adds so much too. There isn’t too much stylistic flair, but that’s to the films advantage. The massive wealth that Getty has isn’t glamourised. His mansion shot with a cold blue hue. When Getty opens a bottle of champagne it isn’t a quick cut to cork popping out and champagne spilling everywhere. The bottle is at the back of the frame, Getty opens it and drinks it himself in a long shot. It’s a lonely thing. Scott doesn’t flinch at the nastier side of the kidnapping either. The scene with the doctor being particularly wince inducing. The design of the film is a marvel too. Set in the 70’s, you never once disbelieve you aren’t right there. It can be a dense film at times, with themes of wealth, power, family, and the circumstances you’ve been born into all being brushed upon. It never fails to be less than entertaining though, which has to be Ridley Scott’s greatest trick.
There are a couple of issues with the film, which stop it being an out and out classic. Pacing being the biggest issue, especially in the first act. The film starts with the kidnapping, but soon goes into a flashback which robs the initial urgency. It stays like the first half an hour, lots of flashbacks which make the film feel choppy and inconsistent, it’s only when it settles down that the film really kicks into gear. The flashbacks themselves help provide context, but not much else. They are often paired with a voiceover, which leaves you with the feeling that they should have picked one or the other. These are onl minor gripes though.
All The Money In The World could have ended up a complete mess. The fact that it’s as good as it is is a remarkable achievement. It’s a rare beast, in that it’s a thoroughly entertaining adult thriller that also asks serious questions. Ridley Scott has always been a great director, but only excels with a great script, and this thankfully has a great script. It’s not quite a masterpiece, but it is hugely enjoyable.