It’s lucky that the press surrounding Ridley Scott’s latest film is so busy with the drama behind the scenes rather than in front of the camera.
It’s lucky that the press surrounding Ridley Scott’s latest film is so busy with the drama behind the scenes rather than in front of the camera. As you probably know, Christopher Plummer replaced accused sex offender Kevin Spacey at the last minute in the supporting role of the man who was once the richest in the world, J. Paul Getty. But before that wildfire spread controversy, All the Money in the World had already been crafted in a short time span, mirroring the quick productions of Steven Spielberg’s The Post and Clint Eastwood’s 15:17 Paris. Perhaps the reason these inside-baseball narratives took such hold is because the story within the film is so lacking.
On paper, J. Paul Getty is a fascinating figure, as most comically wealthy individuals tend to be, so the true to life tale of his grandson being kidnapped for ransom and the billionaire refusing to pay a single cent isn’t the worst premise for drama. Unfortunately, beyond that core conflict there’s not much compelling in David Scarpa’s intermittently interesting but bloated screenplay. Both he and Scott seemed to see this piece of history as an opportunity to paint a broad tableaux of capitalist decadence, but neither has found much new to say on the subject. That wouldn’t be such a problem if, in the absence of profound observation, they had brought a thrilling narrative to the table. In its place lies a schizophrenic screen story that can’t decide what kind of film it wants to be.
For Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg), the kidnapping is a rote procedural, as the ex-spook turned Getty Oil fixer is brought in to get the boy back while spending as little as possible. The kidnapped Paul (Charlie Plummer), who delivers the film’s occasional voice over narration, is the star of a truncated navel gazing coming of age tale about being born middle class and ascending to stratospheric wealth. Getty himself is essentially an Ebenezer Scrooge stand-in who never has to contend with any ghosts, content to hoard possessions and amass wealth while never risking the trifle of true human interaction.
The only two figures this cold, calculating film maintains any semblance of compassion for are Paul’s broke mother Gail Harris (Michelle Williams) and his almost sympathetic kidnapper Cinquanta (Romain Duris). They are painted as the only characters who actually want Paul’s safety. Williams plays Gail with the force of two Hepburns, both Katherine and Audrey, trading in her usual permanent pout for a brassy matriarchal zeal. She’s the only person in the film it’s easy to root for, because all she wants to do is save her son, but the film’s initially non-linear structure sees fit to highlight that it was her being tired of barely making ends meet that got them into this mess. Gail is the one who convinced her fuck up husband to reach out to his estranged father in the first place, ensnaring her family into his mangled web of rich people bullshit.
Strangely, the film levies no such criticism with Cinquanta, an abductor whose screen time is increasingly played for tragic heroism. We never see what drove him to be part of this kidnapping ring in the first place, but Scott and company want us to think him not such a bad guy because he’s nice to his hostage, going so far as to imply he’s sacrificed more for Gail’s son than she has. This odd disconnect is why the movie is so damn muddled. It’s impossible to parse what, if any message, Scott wants to get across about this world.
Outside of the performances, the film’s best qualities are all in the visuals. No one else could realize such a byzantine world with such harsh precision the way Scott does here, with seemingly little effort. Getty’s world is nauseatingly opulent, filled to the brim with grayscale excess that does little more than make the audience fantasize for the guillotine. It’s as if the storied helmer is scoffing at Getty’s accomplishments in the face of how empty his existence ultimately was, but that empty editorializing feels slight given that this is just an easy excuse for him to indulge himself visually without having to tell much of a story.
Perhaps if the script had zeroed in on the tete-a-tete between Getty and Gail, focusing on their dueling moral aims in diametric opposition, it would have congealed into a more captivating dramatic exercise. Plummer and Williams surely display the necessary chemistry to anchor that kind of two-hander, but all the other players get in the way of their philosophical feud. If nothing else, we can at least be grateful Scott saw fit to bring Plummer in at all. As hollow as the finished product is, All the Money in the World would be downright laughable if it was still centered around Kevin Spacey in a Mission Impossible mask doing a funny voice.