Director: Ridley Scott
Ridley Scott’s new film All the Money in the World is based on the true story of the world-famous kidnapping of the grandson of oil tycoon John Paul Getty in 1973. It’s a fascinating story, not least because of the miserly billionaire, who was the richest man in the world at the time, famously refused to pay a dime of the $17 million ransom demanded by the kidnappers to let the boy go.
Equally fascinating is the behind-the-scenes story of how Scott – the great director of films like Blade Runner, Alien, Gladiator, and The Martian – made a bold decision, only six weeks before the film's scheduled release, to recast the central role of the wealthy baron that he'd already shot with Kevin Spacey.
Concerned that the film might become collateral damage when sexual abuse allegations against Spacey emerged in late October 2017, Scott replaced the House of Cards star with 88-year-old Christopher Plummer, reshooting his scenes in a mere nine days, adding an additional $10 million to the film’s cost.
Shrewd move, and one that appears to have paid off nicely. For not only is Plummer much closer in age to Getty than Spacey was, he’s also terrific in the role. He plays the tightfisted billionaire as affable, yet chillingly detached; a ruthless man with ice running through his veins. The sort of person that installed a phone booth in his mansion so his guests could pay for their calls.
Meanwhile, Charlie Plummer (no relation to Plummer Sr) plays Getty’s 16-year-old grandson Paul who’s held captive after being picked up from the street in Rome, and Michelle Williams is Gail, the old man’s estranged daughter-in-law and the boy’s devoted but broke mother. Mark Wahlberg is cast as Fletcher Chase, an ex-CIA man on Getty’s payroll, who is tasked with bringing back the boy without spending any money.
On the surface, the film feels like a relatively lightweight entry in Scott’s canon of masterpieces given that its overarching theme – the corrupting influence of enormous wealth – is not exactly new. But the veteran filmmaker gives it the pace and the rhythm of an action thriller, and dials up the urgency in recreating much of the frenzy and the chaos that the Italian press created around the kidnapping.
At the same time, Scott maintains a tight coil of tension throughout, cutting between the parallel tracks of the terrified young boy being held by impatient captors, and the battle of wits between his stubborn grandfather and his desperate but determined mother.
Christopher Plummer digs deep to explore the heart of a man whose capacity for love is limited to money or the enduring assets he can buy with it. Michelle Williams brings a sort of quiet intensity and passion to the part of the resolute mother. Gail is a portrait of humanity and emotion, and in that she is a fitting rival to the pitiless Getty. Together, the two actors are the beating heart of this film.
Given Ridley Scott’s keen eye for detail and his virtually unparalleled visual aesthetic the film is evocatively shot and the recreation of both 1970s Europe, and specifically the grandeur of Getty’s world, is faultless. Even without having anything profound to say about wealth or greed, he delivers a consistently watchable film that benefits enormously from its two central performances.
I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for All the Money in the World.