At this point, All the Money in the World may be best known for the recasting of one of the central characters less than two months before release. Kevin Spacey was to join the ranks of those who have donned complex facial prosthetics in his role as John Paul Getty Sr. in an attempt to get one of those coveted golden statues. When the news broke of Spacey’s long history of sexual assault it was almost guaranteed to tank the film and dash any hopes for a nomination. Refusing to allow Spacey’s actions to dictate the perceptions of his film, director Ridley Scott brought in Christopher Plummer to save the day and take on the challenging role of one of the richest men who has ever lived. Despite the industry’s doubts, Scott managed to complete the reshoots and make the original release date of Christmas Day and now all that remains is to see if his risky gamble pays off.
All the Money in the World is a fictionalized account of John Paul Getty III’s (Charlie Plummer) kidnapping and the backstory as to why his billionaire grandfather refuses to pay the ransom. The film sketches in the details of his parent’s marriage and subsequent divorce, as well as his mother Gail’s (Michelle Williams) battle for custody. At 16, Paul, as he is referred to by his family, is wandering the streets of Rome late at night when he is snatched by a group of men associated with the ‘Ndrangheta mob. They demand 17 million dollars in exchange for Paul’s freedom and a distraught Gail goes to see John Getty Sr. to ask him for help.
Getty refuses to see her or pay the ransom, claiming that he cannot spare the money despite his vast and ever-growing fortune. Instead, he sends his personal negotiator, ex-CIA agent Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg), to get his grandson back and “handle” Gail. Chase is sympathetic to her distress and does his best to help find Paul, but is naïve about the complexity of the family’s relationships and how they will affect the situation. When he finds a reason to suspect the kidnapping is a hoax he refuses to listen to Gail’s entreaties and informs Getty that it is false. Meanwhile, Paul is being held in a cave in Southern Italy with his captors slowly growing impatient at the lack of response, and it takes an act of terrible violence to make the reality of the situation clear to everyone.
While John Getty Sr. has a minimal amount of screen time, his presence hangs over the movie like a pall. Ridley Scott uses his character to convey some contentious opinions about the morality of mass wealth and insatiable greed. Christopher Plummer does a magnificent job with his portrayal of Getty, blending Scott’s pointed message with a little humanity and convincing us that someone could sincerely believe a billion dollars is not enough for one person. Michelle Williams gives one of her best performances as the reserved Gail Getty. At that time, as a woman with no assets to speak of, she had no power in the situation. She relies on her implacable will to try to convince the towering Getty to help his grandson and she uses every advantage she can find, even if it may mean losing everything she has left.
The initial trailers for All the Money in the World make it seem like a fast-moving action rescue story, but it is none of those things. The film unfolds at a stately pace and is a detailed examination of one event that only deviates to give the backstory necessary to truly understand each person’s reaction. It mixes in flashbacks to give context to Paul’s and Gail’s lives as well as showing Chase’s interactions with Getty as he slowly comes to realize just who the man really is. The film manages to keep itself together until the last act, but at that point things begin to drag and the movie’s passionate message overtakes the plot in several melodramatic scenes that were almost painful to watch. All the Money in the World has some wonderful performances and an interesting story, but its flaws are too prominent for it to be a truly great film.