The best parts of Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World are the ones that dive into the vast and empty void that comes with extreme wealth. The moments that explore a man who could hear coins falling out of his pocket louder than the agonized screams of his own kidnapped family member. These are fascinating, heartbreaking scenes anchored by a mesmerizing performance by Christopher Plummer as oil baron John Paul Getty, and they were all filmed a mere six weeks before this writing. What is ultimately the most striking part of the olympian rebound this film made in the wake of Kevin Spacey’s disgraced exit is not simply that his scenes were replaced in time. It’s that these sequences carry the rest of the film on their back.
Plummer creates one of 2017’s most magnetic characters in his interpretation of Getty. When we meet him in the film’s early stages, which take place before his grandson John III (Charlie Plummer) is kidnaped, he comes across as an eccentric man in a high castle. Cuttingly blunt about his own wealth, but friendly enough to make you want to listen. However, when we flash forward to the main event and it’s on him to pay up, Getty pulls the rug out from us completely. He becomes a villain of his own creation, rooted entirely in self preservation. Plummer makes a meal out of this transition, making each selfish act land with a devastating sting. We never know which Getty we’re going to see in any given moment and we’re hanging on his every word to find out.
It’s the moments without Plummer which feel more like Scott going through the motions. They’re not bad necessarily, even suspenseful at times, but they fail to elevate beyond feeling workmanlike for a master filmmaker like Scott. Once the focus shifts more to Gail Harris’ (Michelle Williams) and Fletcher Chase’s (Mark Wahlberg) pursuit of the kidnapped Getty heir, things settle into a fairly predictable rhythm. Boiler plate rumination about hostage negotiation, failed rescue attempts, agonizing over missteps, repeat.
It certainly helps that Williams is terrific as Harris, an exasperated woman trapped in a family legacy that she thought she had divorced out of. We empathize with her every difficult step of the way, and feel her agony whenever an attempt to rescue her son goes south. Wahlberg does not fare quite as well as Getty’s level headed fixer. A great deal of this character’s arc rests on him coming off as distractingly stoic, almost alien, at first. Wahlberg is a bit too much of an everyman to really pull this off. It seems like his standard action hero is just itching to tear his nice suit off and go in to save Getty III the old fashioned way. He does what he can, but he’s simply miscast.
Scott beautifully captures the excess that his subjects live in. The cinematography takes on a dark, almost otherworldly look that makes us feel as though we’ve entered not only a different time period but a different realm of society. When we’re walking around Getty’s massive greenish grey courtyard and long empty hallways filled with art we feel both the scale of his accomplishment and the loneliness that lifestyle has created. As for the inserted moments with Plummer, only a couple seem at all tacked on.
However, Scott never loses track of the brutality of the situation he’s depicting. There aren’t action sequences here so much as there are extended moments of suspense punctuated by brutal violence. Scott lingers on the moment before the violence just long enough to have every audience member’s knuckles clench before releasing often with something horrific. Every time Getty III almost gets away, we feel a rush ourselves, hoping that his captors won’t be around the next corner.
All the Money in the World is never quite as powerful or intense as it’s trying to be but the moments that shine (most of them involving Plummer) are almost as rich as Getty himself. Scott’s got plenty of bite left in him yet, and perhaps he should take the greatness of the scenes he created under such pressure as a sign to make something a little less mannered next time around.