Review: All the Money in the World

Directed by: Ridley Scott
Written by: David Scarpa
Starring: Michelle Williams, Christopher Plummer, Mark Wahlberg, Romain Duris, Charlie Plummer, Timothy Hutton
Released: January 4, 2018
Grade: B

All the Money in the World
A lot of films endure production issues but the story behind All the Money in the World rivals anything I’ve heard before.  The movie was shot in the middle of the year with director Ridley Scott (Gladiator) working hard to have it ready for a December release date and a crack at awards season.  A trailer was distributed in September that provided a first glimpse of the storyline and the performances of its three big stars – Michelle Williams, Mark Wahlberg and Kevin Spacey.

In late October, Spacey was accused of making sexual advances against a 14-year-old boy back in the 1980s.  That was followed by a slew of other serious allegations that left his reputation in taters (deservedly so).  It left Ridley Scott in a difficult situation.  If he released the film as is, it would be engulfed with negative publicity and audiences would avoid it like the plague.  On the flip side, it was hard to justify scrapping the film given it was already being promoted and $30 million had been spent in production costs.

Scott came up with a gutsy, ingenious solution that, in a warped way, created a wave of positive publicity that would not have been generated otherwise.  He ditched Spacey and brought in 88-year-old Oscar winner Christopher Plummer (Beginners) as a replacement.  The actors returned for free and over a 9 day period, every scene that had featured Spacey was reshot within Plummer.  Editor Claire Simpson (Platoon) inserted the new footage each night and the updated version of the movie was ready to be released on time.  Six weeks after the first public allegations were made against Spacey… Christopher Plummer found himself nominated for a Golden Globe award for best actor in a supporting role!  That is truly nuts.

I was initially cynical of Plummer’s nomination but having now seen All the Money in the World, I can acknowledge that he’s actually very good.  He plays John Paul Getty, an American businessman who founded the Getty Oil company and for a period of time in the 1960s was the richest individual in the world.  Some believe that “money makes you happy” but Getty’s reputation would put paid to that idea.  He was a miserably frugal man who had no intention of sharing his wealth with anyone (including the tax man).  What he thrived on was the “power” that his vast fortune provided.

The film isn’t intended to be a biography of Getty.  Rather, it centres on the event in his life of which he became infamous.  In July 1973, his 16-year-old grandson, Paul, was kidnapped whilst walking the streets of Rome.  A $17 million ransom was demanded but Getty refused to pay a cent.  He could easily afford it but he didn’t want to pay out of principle.  The case became headline news across the globe which the public forming their own views on Getty and his family.

There are two other key players in this ensemble.  The first is Michelle Williams (Brokeback Mountain) who plays Paul’s worried mother.  She married into the Getty family and is infuriated by the actions of husband and father-in-law in not paying the ransom.  The second is Mark Wahlberg (The Departed) who features as a former CIA operative brought in by John Paul Getty to help locate his kidnapped grandson.

The production values are strong but screenwriter David Scarpa doesn’t make the most of the 132 minute running time.  We are reminded again and again that Getty was a frugal monster and the mother was a nice person.  Mark Wahlberg’s character doesn’t have much of a backstory or a purpose.  French actor Romain Duris (The Spanish Apartment) offers the most intrigue as one of the conflicted kidnappers but he’s given very little screen time.

All the Money in the World can be enjoyed as a “truth is stranger than fiction” tale but it won’t leave you on the edge of your seat.