December 24, 2017
It’s almost impossible to talk about All the Money in the World without talking about the major scandal surrounding the film’s controversial recasting decision made just one month ago. After the accusations of sexual assault against star Kevin Spacey, director Ridley Scott, with only a month to wide release, cast veteran actor Christopher Plummer in Spacey’s original role, reshooting all Plummer’s scenes while still maintaining the Christmas Day release. However the reshoots ended up, the decision to hit the ground running to purge the film of a tainted name is an admirable one to say the absolute least. Even into his 80s, Scott is a director known for his consistent output of work with All the Money in the World being his second film of 2017 alone (the first being Alien: Covenant). He clearly spared no effort to make sure that All the Money in the World hit theaters with more resolve than revolt.
So let’s get it out of the way first, are the reshoots in All the Money in the World noticeable? Absolutely not. The smoothness of the role transitioning from Spacey to Plummer is made without a hitch, and Plummer gives one of his best performances of his career as J. Paul Getty, a slimy über-capitalist of the stingiest variety. Granted, there weren’t any mustaches to cover over with CGI (looking at you, Justice League) or any major plot changes made, only a direct reshoot of existing scenes. Still, to the unknowing viewer, no one would even bat an eye in thinking that Plummer wasn’t involved from the very start of production, let alone only one month ago.
Set in Rome, 1973, 17-year-old Paul Getty (Charlie Plummer), is kidnapped by Calabrian thugs demanding a ransom of $17 million for his release. His mother, Gail (Michelle Williams), divorced from J. Paul Getty Jr. (Andrew Buchan), is contacted by the kidnappers, and she is instructed to probe her father-in-law, billionaire J. Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer) for the money. Prompted by the possible murder of his grandson, the frugal Getty, refuses to pay the ransom for his grandson’s release. Together with Getty’s business manager, Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg), Gail must try to remotely keep the kidnappers from killing her son while she attempts to procure the ransom money, whether it be from Getty or by other means.
Plummer is exceptional as Getty, but it’s Williams as Gail who really carries the film. All the Money in the World is the perfect reminder just how wonderfully versatile and powerful of an actress she is. As a woman on the brink, she nails the perfect amount of volatility and desperation that a mother on the cusp of losing her child needs in a performance. She has the resolve of a game hunter and the vulnerability of a lost puppy, and never loses her way in painting a wonderfully frayed picture. Wahlberg, not known for his subtlety in the craft of acting, also gives one of his best performances to date as Chase, even if that’s not a high bar to clear. Chase is not a particularly deep character, but it’s the perfect role for Wahlberg to show that he still has it as a dramatic actor.
Scott is a director known for his visual eye, often taking on larger-than-life sci-fi and action projects, but he scales himself back immensely here. It’s a muted, grounded film that really gets to show off Scott’s lasting skill as a dramatic filmmaker that we haven’t been able to see in a film in full force since American Gangster (though I do have a soft spot for The Counselor). There’s nothing flashy about All the Money in the World, but there’s a great amount of dexterity in crafting the story at hand. Scott is able to tell three separate stories that play out seamlessly in parallel fashion: Paul’s experience in kidnapping, Gail’s search for Paul, and Getty’s greed. It would be easy for All the Money in the World to be convoluted, but Scott grounds himself in reality, rather than shooting for the stars, and the end result is refreshingly simple and clean.
All the Money in the World is a rousing film that defies all of its setbacks to create one of the more effective thrillers of the year. It’s not pretty, nor is it put into a nice neat bow, but it’s a story of great resilience and resourcefulness, one that Scott approaches with cinematic fluidity and the utmost care. Scott has a way of constructing history in a way that never feels like a history lecture, even if it still has its clear viewpoints on it. While All the Money in the World isn’t an explicitly anti-capitalist film, it’s a stylishly bold take on toxic capitalism through the eyes of Getty’s borderline sociopathic greed. It’s not only the film and its execution that’s bold, but in Scott’s nerve as a filmmaker to take such a risk at the behest of a major studio and pull it off. That’s thrilling enough in itself to watch.
Star Rating: 4.5 out of 5