For a movie that’ll be forever associated with actor Kevin Spacey, his alleged sexual misconduct and eventual erasure from it, All the Money in the World will stand admiringly well to cinematic scrutiny in the future. Director Ridley Scott and his team, showing sterling gumption and dare, reshot all sequences that involved Spacey in a single-digit timeline, this involving getting up all the sets in record time, and a logistical nightmare of a call-sheet for all actors and crew involved, that might actually inspire a behind-the-scenes movie in another decade.
Onscreen, All the Money, based on the true-life story penned by John Pearson, Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty, translates into an experience that straddles behavioral dynamics and noirish thriller, not for a moment slipping into family mawkish melodrama. Written by David Scarpa, the movie glides along a pace that’s smooth and gripping, despite flashing back and forth to set up the scenes of negotiations and ransom calls. The hostage in question is J. P. “Paul” Getty III (Charlie Plummer), favorite grandson of the world’s richest man, J. Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer, no relation to junior Plummer). As you discover later, ‘favorite’ is stretching the classical definition of the word in every sense and dimension, and then a bit. And then, as you mull over the tycoon’s personality, you think, is it really?
But, first things first. It’s 1973, Rome, and Getty Jr., all of 16, is roaming the streets without a care in the world, an easy swagger to his demeanor that only access to riches or a bohemian lifestyle can lend itself to. The camera follows his step with a carelessness that’s beautifully done, and then just as smoothly, he’s kidnapped. And as the news breaks to his family – his grandfather in his mansion, as he pores over the latest oil prices spurting out in reams of fax rolls, and his mother, Gail Harris (Michelle Williams) as she sputters and realizes the full import of the ransom call. Here, director Scott and editor Claire Simpson segue into flashbacks, and you see how Gail and her husband John Paul Getty Jr. (Andrew Buchan) are all broke, and he writes his father to secure a job in his empire, not surprisingly at the prodding of his wife.
There’s a superbly constructed scene where Getty senior-most meets his son and his family brood, and instantly connects to his eldest grandson (now the kidnapped Paul). The scene is brimming with dynamics of familial ties, personality deconstructs, and a discomfiture that only being seated in the chair of want can bring about. The only person in the scene who’s at ease is the millionaire, who seems to revel in welcoming the son into the fold, giving a sentence or two in defense of his being away – “I couldn’t be weighed down by a family” – a nod to his son’s life of successful and multiple procreation, but little else to show for – and just as easily, he gives away a purportedly invaluable (not priceless) Minotaur away to his grandson – that comes up to smack Gail later after her son’s kidnapped, even as it confirms another facet of the tycoon’s persona to you and to her. This scene is also remarkable for the paradoxically apt demeanor of Plummer’s character and composer Daniel Pemberton’s all-through effective and moody background score – the violins and cello growl in a downwardly spiral, as if amplifying the tensions in the room.
When news of the kidnapping becomes public, Getty appears before the press and TV and announces that he has no intentions of paying the criminals – it’d encourage kidnappers to go after more members of his family, and he’d be broke, he says, almost self-sympathetically, if he’d had to pay for every family member that got kidnapped. On the side, however, he appoints Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg), a negotiator for Getty Oil and former CIA operative, to locate and get Paul back.
In the meantime, the kidnappers get restless, and it seems as though Paul’s only ally in the gang is Cinquanta (Romain Duris), but even he can’t prevent bodily harm being inflicted upon the hapless Paul, as he’s sold off to another, more ruthless gang. And as the movie progresses, there are false leads, mis-starts, and trouble for Fletcher and Gail, as they try and track down the teenager.
Director Scott and cinematographer Dariusz Wolski paint the screen with tones of tension, shades of noir, and ratchet up the heartbeat that much more. But the best lighting and atmospherics is when Getty is onscreen, the shades dark, temporally lonely, and enveloped in an impermeable wrap of green-bags and isolation. Actor Christopher Plummer lends an air of imperiousness that’s impenetrable and sometimes unfathomable – and you know he’s hiding an uneasy past all through for his character. That somehow, tragically, also justifies his own manic obsessiveness with money, estate, paintings, and deals. Plummer is simply magnificent, lending the movie and his character a harrowing touch of possessiveness and protectiveness – and no, it’s not for his family.
As Gail Harris, Michelle Williams sparkles, puffing smokes of defiance and strength, and yet crumpling completely when she’s asked to identify a dead body. Watch her as she signs away the custody of her children so she can save one of them, and you’ll feel the seething hurt cut the cinema hall with the precision of a sabre. Mark Wahlberg is fantastic, giving a misleadingly light-touch performance that’s rightly supportive, and very, very solid.
And I keep coming back to Plummer. Only director Scott and his team can tell us how the single-malt-like-refined octogenarian fared vis-à-vis the supremely talented and abrasive Spacey. That’s for the academics, but in Plummer’s performance will you find the answer to how much money is finally enough – or maybe not. As his character tells Fletcher, if you can count your money, you’re not rich enough. But he also makes you realize that in the end, regardless of your fortune, you ought to be able to count your blessings.
All the Money in the World is rated U/A (Parental Guidance for children below the age of 12 years) There’s violence, a torture scene and hubris.
All the Money in the World
Director Ridley Scott Running Time 2h 12 min
Writers David Scarpa
Stars Michelle Williams, Mark Wahlberg, Christopher Plummer
Genres Biography, Crime, Drama
Watch the trailer of All the Money in the World here: