The greatest praise to be bestowed upon Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World is that Christopher Plummer provides it with a character to truly despise. He is despicable, and gives the audience someone to loathe. However, if his turn as detached billionaire Jean Paul Getty were not so cold and collected, it would be considerably hard to invest in the films “based on a true story” narrative that materialises its most exciting details.
John Paul Getty III is a 16-year-old teenager wandering around the dimly lit streets of Rome’s seedy night-life. He’s relaxed, and an encounter with a group of prostitutes suggests a naive untouchability and smugness to his character; he is wrong to feel so safe, and is hastily bundled into the back of a unmarked van by armed strangers. Awaking in a dingy cell, he discovers that he is being held ransom for seventeen million dollars. He is a Getty, and that means money; but unfortunately for him and his mother Gail (Michelle Williams), wealthy grandfather and oil tycoon J. Paul Getty considers everything to have its price, except that of a human life. Upon hearing of the ransom, his grandfather refuses to pay, and hires former CIA operative and personal negotiator Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg) to save his grandson as inexpensively as possible. Together, Gail and Fletcher work together, negotiating to save the most important commodity of all; it’s an age-old recurring tale of greed.
The film received a great deal of attention in 2017 thanks to a bold and wise choice to recast the role of J. Paul Getty. Plummer’s role was originally Kevin Spacey’s, who was justifiably crucified in the media after numerous sex allegations were made against the A-list star. These allegations surfaced during the films post-production, and Scott honourably and intelligently decided to re-shoot Spacey’s scenes; a daunting task. However, after these complications, All the Money in the World has proved quite the success. Besides The Martian in 2015, Ridley Scott’s career has divided fans and audiences alike. His 2012 alien prequel, Prometheus, was felt by many to be unnecessary, and considered last year’s sequel, Alien: Covenant, to be a further injury to the legacy of the science-fiction franchise. The Counsellor, Exodus: Gods and Kings, and lastly, 2010’s re-imaging of the Robin Hood legend, were all considered evidence of Scott’s decade into decline. With his latest-feature, Scott ably boasts that he still possesses the skill to craft a thrilling drama; sadly, it’s a comfortable film to say the least. It is a product of a director confident in his career, no longer willing or motivated to make something truly exciting. It would seem that motion pictures of such calibre are truly behind him once and for all. Not that there’s anything wrong with this, but the “directed by Ridley Scott” badge of honour has lost its meaning for many.
Kevin Spacey’s replacement was a great choice, and Michelle Williams (Certain Women, Wendy and Lucy) once again proves why she is one of the finest actresses of her generation. Wahlberg was unsurprisingly an uninspired and disappointing choice; not that he is terrible in the role, he performs fairly well amongst a more seasoned cast, but it must be raised that this is the kind of role in which Wahlberg had the chance to prove himself as a commanding dramatic actor, but merely stands as a missed opportunity to shine through the murkiness of poor performances that encapsulate his career as a muscle-headed v-neck. Luckily for him, Williams steals every scene they share, and gives the actor something to work with. As for narrative, there are interesting true events to draw from here, and some of this material is alarmingly squamish; a particular torture scene proves that the imagination prospers when dealing with horrific violence. The use of flashbacks only appear in the first act and are a little clunky, and lazily function as way to contextualise characters, ensuring an exposition in which everything is imposingly demonstrated, eliminating the audience’s role as detective to figure things out for themselves. A self-assured structure maintains the viewers interest in the events that take place, and while never overwhelming, it is never dull.
Although his latest deals in high stakes, a safe-approach towards the directorial style Scott takes means that the film is never as explosive as it should be, even during the films brief action sequences. It is admittedly too long, and the narrative excess is obvious, but overall, it’s still evidence that Scott remains a skilful director who can work with his actors to create something moderately entertaining from start to finish, and after the great pieces of cinema he has given audiences over the decades, that’s just fine.