Updated: Jul 23, 2020
Director – Ridley Scott
Writer – David Scarpa
Cast – Michelle Williams, Christopher Plummer, Mark Wahlberg, Romain Duris, Charlie Plummer, Andrew Buchan, and Timothy Hutton.
Plot – Based on the 1995 novel by John Pearson, exhaustingly titled Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty, which tells the true story about the capture of John Paul Getty in 1973 by an organised crime group and the refusal of his grandfather, the richest man in the world at that time, J. Paul Getty, to pay the ransom for his release.
Ridley Scott is a force of nature. Over the years he has garnered a reputation as an ‘actors’ director in that he can get what he needs from his performers within a couple of takes. His efficiency was none more prevalent than on All the Money in the World, a film which required extensive reshoots after one of its main cast members (Kevin Spacey) became part of a world-wide scandal after reports of sexual harassment allegations came to light from throughout his career. Scott, not one for wasting time, erased Spacey from the film and recast Plummer in the role of J. Paul Getty and swiftly within a month completed the shoots to make the December release.
Those reshoots may have harmed the film’s box office profits ($10 million which led to a total spend of $50 million and the profit only $5.5 million) but Plummer’s performance as the infamously frugal Getty is a master display of role transformation and an indicator of the 80-year-old director’s astounding work ethic.
Scott opens the film with gorgeous sweeping night-time views of 1970s Rome, as the young Getty (Charlie Plummer, no relation to Christopher) walks the streets aimlessly but is then quickly kidnapped and thrust into a nearby van and driven away. We are then introduced to his mother Gail Harris (Williams) as she is informed of the kidnapping and the film switches to years prior, establishing how her husband (John Paul Getty Jnr played by Andrew Buchan) reconnected with his father, the oil tycoon J. Paul Getty and how he introduced the family to jobs within his empire. Scott then fast-forwards to a later time showing how the divorce of Harris and Getty Jnr led to a bitter negotiating battle with the oil tycoon over the custody of their young children (which she won by refusing her half of the settlement).
It’s this dilemma that is the centre of Scarpa’s screenplay; how important is money and how much is a life really worth? For Gail it is an easy answer; money means nothing and her son means everything. For J. Paul Getty, the answer is much less clear. In fact, it would seem the opposite. When faced by reporters after the news broke of the kidnapping, he responds so matter-of-factly and casually you would be forgiven for thinking he was talking about his recent profit earnings. Plummer brings coldness to the character, as he shrugs off the reporters when they ask why he won’t pay the ransom: “I have 13 other grandchildren, and if I pay one penny now, then I will have 14 kidnapped grandchildren."
Williams, meanwhile as Gail, is the emotional core of the film. Initially having to deal with the shock of the news, her character has to find a way to convince her former father-in-law to pay the fee. She also comes under scrutiny in the media, commonly mistaken to be wealthy herself. Her scenes with Wahlberg’s character Fletcher Chase (Getty’s head of security and personally tasked by Getty to negotiate the release of his grandson) particularly resonate as her desperation begins to have an effect on him. Although his character is a little one-note and back-story barely fleshed out beyond 'ex CIA Ops guy'.
Romain Duris rounds out the supporting cast as Cinquata, a kidnapper who begins to feel empathy towards the young Getty and one of the main negotiators for the mafia. Although there seems to be affection building between him and the boy, it ultimately underpins the menace of his character as young Getty struggles to trust him and his friendly advances.
But Christopher Plummer’s turn is the standout. It is easy to imagine alternate realities where different actors or directors play the role or direct the film we are familiar with currently. For example, how different would Edgar Wright’s Ant Man have been if it weren’t for those ‘creative differences’ with Marvel that ultimately saw him leave? Or would Travolta’s career have been revived if it was Michael Madsen that had played Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction, as was nearly the case? With this role, there was a Spacey version completed (and in fact one shot still made it in the finished film, albeit the back of his head from a distance) and it is interesting to imagine how different the character may have been. But alas, Scott’s decision to briskly recast was, although risky, most likely the best option and has greatly paid off.
Overall, Scott wrings great performances from his cast (particularly Williams and Plummer) and has produced a well crafted, beautifully shot piece which has once again proven that he can weave between genres (his previous films have been Exodus: Gods and Kings and the lesser Alien: Covenant) and still pack a powerful punch. All the Money in the World is not a genre-bending, industry changing work however it is a solid, entertaining and occasionally challenging film about the nature of wealth and man's greed when faced with dire choices.