Ridley Scott’s “All the money in the World” was a fascinating news story before it ever hit the screens. Kevin Spacey was cast in the key supporting role of J. Paul Getty. But after several sexual assault allegations the decision was made to replace Spacey even though he had shot all his scenes and appeared in the early ad campaign. Christopher Plummer (Scott’s original first choice) was brought in just a month from the scheduled release to reshoot Spacey’s scenes. The movie’s release date was only knocked back three days.
It was a gutsy but principled gamble by Scott and company and it paid off. Plummer is outstanding and has already earned several nominations around the awards circuit. Plummer’s J. Paul Getty is the film’s the most compelling character.
The story opens in Rome, 1973. Paul Getty (played by Charlie Plummer, no relation), the 16 year-old grandson of oil mogul and well-known ‘richest man in the world’ J. Paul Getty, is abducted by a van full Calabrian thugs. The kidnappers contact Paul’s mother Gail (Michelle Williams) and demand $17 million in ransom money. The problem is she doesn’t have it. A series of flashbacks reveals an ugly divorce with Paul’s father where Gail chose full custody of their children over the Getty’s money.
Gail approaches her cold-hearted ex-father-in-law but is stunned when he denies her the ransom money. At one point he says “I have none to spare”. A few scenes later he’s revealing plans to build himself another lavish estate. Screenwriter David Scarpa doesn’t give Plummer a ton of screen time but every scene he’s in has energy and bite. Ultimately this isn’t J. Paul’s movie. Gail quickly becomes the centerpiece and our emotional connection.
J. Paul won’t part with his money but he does send his oil broker, a former CIA operative, Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlburg) to help Gail negotiate a release. In the meantime young Paul is taken to a remote countryside location in Italy where he gains the sympathy of his head captor Cinquanta (played by fantastic French actor Romain Duris). He and Gail begin negotiations but both sides are hindered by powerful outside forces driven by their own motivations.
This “Inspired by True Events” story is based on John Pearson’s book “Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty”. Scott’s treatment starts a little slow and it takes some time to get its footing. But once it does it zips along and becomes a good suspenseful crime thriller with several cool touches. For example, Scott’s portrayal of the paparazzi instantly hearkens back to Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita”. There is also the undeniable 70s vibe that shines through, not just in look but also in the style of the storytelling.
Perhaps the biggest reason “All the Money” works is because Ridley Scott steps out of the way and puts his full trust in his actors and the script. There are fine performances throughout, particularly from Plummer and Duris. And Michelle Williams is more than capable of carrying a bulk of the story. As you would expect from a Scott picture the production is superb, and while the story is slow out of the gate, once it gets going it’s a pretty invigorating ride.
VERDICT – 3.5 STARS