Film Review: All the Money in the World is compelling but flawed (USA, 2017)

Ridley Scott made a very tough, very challenging decision in direct response to last year’s accusations of sexual assault against Kevin Spacey; he decided to pull the actor from All the Money in the World entirely, even after most of the scenes had been shot (and a trailer was released), with only a month left to release. It had never been done before and many went on to doubt the viability of replacing such a pivotal role without having serious consequences for the film’s release date. The veteran director ripped those doubts to shreds; with a lot of help from his committed cast, Scott successfully pulled Spacey out of the role and re-shot all relevant scenes with Christopher Plummer as Jean Paul Getty, the real-life gazillionaire behind the renowned Getty empire.

The result is seamless; anyone who didn’t know the film’s behind-the-scenes story would be none-the-wiser as Plummer embodies the wealthy industrialist with searing and subtle notions of brutality, expertly sculpting his character around a cold-hearted archetype with just the right amount of charm and sympathy to truly take effect. Plummer umanizes who would otherwise be straight up villain. Pair that with a consistently excellent performance by Michelle Williams as Gail Harris, the struggling single mother of Jean Paul’s 16-year-old grandson, John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer – no relation) and you’ve got some electric scenes, ones which help hold this film together while the messy screenplay and a terribly boring Mark Wahlberg (as the underwritten and pointless former CIA operative in Jean Paul Getty’s employment, Fletcher Chase) constantly threaten to tear it all apart.

Scott doesn’t waste time getting to the major dilemma of the film, which is John Paul’s beautifully staged kidnapping and subsequent ransom, a $17 million ask that is thoroughly and swiftly denied by the teenager’s unfathomably rich grandfather, to the obvious dismay of Gail and those around him. The very wise choice of inserting a substantial and well-formed flashback is then introduced to give the situation context, further complicating Jean Paul’s decision by highlighting that the tycoon was very fond of his grandson. Though instead of focusing on the psychology behind this man not dipping into his vast fortune to potentially save a family member’s life, we are attached to Gail’s fierce determination as she persistently stands up to her father-in-law, teaming with Fletcher Chase to track down the kidnappers (or rather, wait by the phone) and rescue her son.

The problem with Fletcher Chase is that he doesn’t seem all that competent. In fact, there are very few scenes in which Jean Paul’s fixer-for-hire is effective, which makes his presence throughout the film confusing and slightly distracting. Wahlberg fits nothing into his character, presenting us with an apparent hero who is as almost as hollow as Charlie Plummer’s hapless prisoner. Speaking of whom, John Paul III is so intensely dull that each scene with him is saved only by the brilliantly charismatic Romain Duris, the relative good guy of the kidnappers who develops a liking to the kid and carries each scene with the same subtle conflictions which make Christopher Plummer’s performance so memorable.

There is an excellent film in here, but unfortunately David Scarpa’s screenplay is too busy to truly focus on the most interesting aspect, that being Jean Paul’s complex perspective on legacy. Generosity is a contemptuous thought for this man, whether it be for his son, Gail’s ex-husband who developed such complicated daddy issues he left a life of financial stability for drug addiction, or the life of any one of his 14 grandchildren. Legacy, instead, is meaningless cultural capital for Jean Paul, valuing art and old-world trinkets over flesh-and-blood with a singular sense of selfishness that is on the verge of being unbelievable. That’s the kind of mind tha would have been endlessly interesting to explore, but a detailed character study isn’t viable in an action thriller, which is the route Scott unfortunately chose to go.

Review Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

All the Money in the World will be released in Australian cinemas on January 4th 2018.