Though Christopher Plummer lives up to performance hype, Ridley Scott is coasting on his crime thriller.
The crime thriller premise of Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World runs on its stranger-than-fiction real-life kidnapping of the John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer), grandson of oil tycoon John Paul Getty I (Christopher Plummer, oddly enough, no relation to Charlie Plummer).
A shadowy production history followed All the Money in the World to its wide release. Kevin Spacey initially had the role of the oil tycoon John Paul Getty III. In the wake of the sexual assault allegations against Spacey, Sony commissioned reshoots, which swapped Kevin Spacey with octogenarian Christopher Plummer for the role.
With nine days of reshoots, Plummer pays off too remarkably well to fancy Spacey’s presence in the previous cut—also serving as a necessary radical step in clearing out Hollywood predators. As Getty I, Plummer dominates every frame as a visage of a miserly Scrooge who affords congenial charm and attachment. Bizarrely, despite his appetite for new art pieces to add to his endless gallery, his extravagance has limits. He can be found doing his own laundry to lower his bill and would boast of his haggling skills—of knocking down a few dollars on a benign foreign idol he purchased on one of his travels. When he employs his estranged son Getty II (Andrew Buchan) into his business or bonds with one of his grandchildren, he is not investing in family love but the idea of a bloodline. Genuine familial bonds are just an amusing supplement to his assets.
When push comes to shove, Getty wouldn’t surrender a penny when an Italian mafia syndicate kidnaps his teenage grandson right off the streets for a ransom of $17 million, which shouldn’t be pricey by the tycoon’s financial standards—yet he insists it is so.
Despite the lived-up hype surrounding Plummer’s performance of Getty I, it is Michelle Williams’ Gail Getty who owns the spotlight as a mother with emotional caution, maternal fervor, and seething exasperation. On Gail’s first trip to Getty’s mansion, Williams sells Gail’s awe and trepidation of being in affluent spaces, as if she senses the Getty treasures carry a curse. The film traces back the second generation of Gettys’ uneasy integration under Getty I’s tutelage before the abduction. Gail persuades her husband, the Getty II, to reconnect with his father, in hopes of receiving a job to dig them out of their financial pit. But when the senior Getty hands his estranged son a “sink or swim” dead-end job, the father’s spending splendor drives him into drug-addled debauchery that leads to his divorce from Gail. Gail claims custody of her children but does not push for money other than child support, much to the chagrin of the elderly Getty, who is convinced that Abigail must be trying to procure more money out of him. She walks away with her children, her dignity, and the remnant of the Getty name—she never protests against the post-divorce “Mrs. Getty” honorific.
However, she is left unequipped with the ransom amount for her son. The kidnappers assume she has the wealth or that her loaded but stingy (former) father-in-law would relent. Getty I has the easier solution in his pockets, but he smugly tells the press, “If I pay one penny now, then I’ll have 14 kidnapped grandchildren,” a quote that any newspaper would bank on for sensationalist bait. The tycoon simply relishes an opportunity to remind the world of his status, like a mythic dragon clinging to his hoard of gold.
Not that Getty I neglects his grandson from his conscience though. He sends his advisor and former CIA operative Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg) to find his grandson “as cheaply as possible.” With the operation situated Gail’s domestic household, Fletcher and Gail butt heads in calculating other methods to ensure her son’s safe return as young Getty III’s captors grow increasingly volatile. Although Wahlberg’s Chase is an amiable figure with convincing professionalism, his position as the moral mouthpiece is arbitrary against Gail’s emotional and moral labor in the case.
All this is durable foundation for a dramatic crime thriller laced with monetary satire as the film rotates around three narratives: 1) Getty III’s grisly experience in the prison; 2) Gail and Chase’s strategizing to bring her son home; 3) Getty I’s inability to heed Gail’s pleas as he indulges himself in opulence. Although the editing achieves pacing equity between all arcs, the first arc falls flat and diminishes the chance of compelling equilibrium all three stories deserve. Scott is coasting on promising material rather than elevating in it.
While the ensuing outcomes remain heart-poundingly suspenseful, the shocking prison sequences feel more like pulpy stretches rather than full of necessary stakes. Although otherwise a panicky hostage archetype, Charlie Plummer does his duty to embody a distressed teenager processing his predicament. But the film struggles to contend with Getty III as a character. The opening narrative with Getty’s III’s voiceover promises to centralize his trauma and introspection into the narrative. However, the voiceover vanishes, aborting Getty III’s psychological arc and leaving him to be a MacGuffin object to the events, even in his moments of resistance. His scenes at the mafia hideout in a grimy prison feel like an interesting subplot rather than a deservedly compelling storyline, with some serviceably nerving sequences, particularly the nightmarish removal of Getty III’s ear, which would be sent in the mail in hopes of speeding up the mafia’s criminal payday.
It’s an enjoyable final product, but the payout is short of its investment. The movie fights to retain its steam as the plot tosses curveballs to stretch its running time. The film sometimes relies on predictable punch-lines as Scott deploys discernible fake-outs with whether the eldest Getty would fall into charitable humanity, which wears his audience’s intelligence thin. Of course, it ends up that old Getty I is not buying his grandson back, but a pieta painting of a mother holding a child.
Fortunately, Gail succeeds at serving as the heart of the film. So much that she earns a candid victory over the arduous situation. Though the film throws in a questionable resolution for her financial state that appears more ambivalent than thematic.
On a final penny for a thought: Cinquanta (Romain Duris) is one of the young Getty’s captors, with a sooty facade, and a grime-caked toothy smirk. He poses as a gruesome felon with eyes with dollar signs and a mouth full of faux reassurances for his hostage, sincerely believing that the boy must have family who love him too much to not pay up—a win-win, the captor would rationalize. As the captivity tension boils, he negotiates to have the boy’s ear taken instead of his foot, not unlike Getty I’s haggling habits. But the henchman proves to have a smidge more heart than a billionaire grandfather.