Director Ridley Scott has multiple classics on his filmography, but reflecting on his resume reveals what is really an unfortunately modest hit-to-miss ratio. Looking at his record post-2000, he’s made some great movies, like the quick con drama Matchstick Men and the smart, thrilling The Martian, but his record is also tarnished with whiffs like Alien: Covenant, Robin Hood, and Prometheus. It’s made it so that walking into any of his films is basically a coin flip when it comes to expectations. This is part of the baggage that comes with his latest, All The Money In The World… but even that plays second fiddle to the major behind-the-scenes shake-ups that this film forever will be associated with.
Following recent horrific allegations against actor Kevin Spacey, Ridley Scott made the decision to alter All The Money In The World significantly. With only weeks leading up to release, Scott recast Spacey in the role of legendary oil tycoon John Paul Getty, replacing him with the great Christopher Plummer through extensive last-minute reshoots. Because of this, many movie-goers will be studying the movie for seams, looking for those specific edits. The impressive thing is that you won’t find many, as the filmmakers did a tremendous job in that department. The less positive side of the whole matter, however, is that despite some standout performances, the film is ultimately mostly mediocre.
Primarily set in the early 1970s, the film centers on one of the richest families in American history, and the scandal surrounding them that shocked the world. At a time when J. Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer) was seen as the wealthiest man in the world, his favorite grandson, John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer, no relation) was kidnapped by criminals while living in Rome. With his prime captor, Cinquanta (Romain Duris), asking for a large $17 million payoff, the teen’s mother, Gail Harris (Michelle Williams) — who had divorced from the Getty family years earlier — turned to the family’s patriarch for help. When the oil magnate refuses to pay on the grounds that it could potentially inspire kidnappings of his other grandchildren, Gail works side by side with Getty’s security man, Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg), to find her abducted son and bring him home before it’s too late.
Clearly All The Money In The World has an amazing story to tell based on true events, though it’s in the bones of the script where the film finds its deepest issues. With a movie like this, steeped in a certain amount of history and requiring the audience to have a degree of background about the subject matter, you hope that it finds a creative way to help it handle the expositional load. Unfortunately, the whole thing winds up stalling upfront as that job is bungled. It always feels lazy when a feature leans on either voice-over narration or flashbacks to spew information unavailable in the straight narrative, and David Scarpa’s script actually uses both liberally in the opening of the story without actually committing to either one as legitimate storytelling devices. The result has the film scrambling to find its feet as the second act begins, and while it eventually does, it also never entirely recovers from the rocky start.
Ridley Scott eventually does make All The Money In The World work as a captivating thriller, complete with high stakes and beautiful high-contrast photography from regular collaborator Dariusz Wolski — but it also clearly helps that he’s working with some of the greatest performers in the game. Hearing about the aforementioned behind-the-scenes changes, you might expect that J. Paul Getty has a small role to play within the movie and little impact on the larger story; but you’d be completely wrong, and it’s honestly stunning to see what the production was able to accomplish in a limited amount of time with Christopher Plummer. It’s a massively complex portrayal, with the character balancing on a razor-thin line between “frugal billionaire” and “capitalism-born monster,” but Plummer delivers a stunning turn impressively reminiscent of Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane.
On the flip side of this you have Michelle Williams’ Gail Harris, who is made powerless by the situation she’s facing, but battles through it with fortitude and grit — provided to her with fantastic intensity by the performer. It’s a transformative turn in its own right, with the actress putting on an interesting and very specific accent in the character, but it succeeds in rendering her invisible, the audience only seeing a grieving mother doing everything she can to try and get her child back. It’s one of Williams’ best pieces of work, which is actually saying a lot given her impressive resume.
All The Money In The World has fostered a great amount of attention and conversation thanks to its last minute casting alterations, and will probably always be remembered for exactly that. Of course, that’s a double-edged sword. It’s stunning to see what Ridley Scott was able to do with the inclusion of Christopher Plummer, but at the same time you are left wishing that there was more to the film to which the performance was added.