By Jack Dignan
Originally Published on Salty Popcorn
The fact that this movie exists is a bloody miracle. Or at least, the fact that this version of the movie exists is. For those living under a rock these past few months, Hollywood has undergone a much-needed extermination of most of its sexual predators, banishing them from the vibrant green hills of Los Angeles. Amidst this removal, Ridley Scott saw a terrible fate for his upcoming Kevin Spacey-led true crime drama, ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD. With Spacey’s harassment accusations coming in full force, the film was destined to be a box office disaster. So instead of facing it and dealing with the loss, he did something about it.
With under a month left until the film was set to be released worldwide, Scott pulled together all of the film’s cast and crew and returned to re-shoot all of Spacey’s scenes, now with Christopher Plummer in the role of J. Paul Getty instead. It was a feat many believed to be impossible, citing Scott as a madman. As it turns out, he is a madman, but he’s a genius madman, and one that deserves all the acclamation he can get simply for pulling such a risky move. In just eight days, Scott and Plummer re-shot all 22 of Spacey’s scenes, and it’s the best decision this film could have ever made.
Based on a shocking true story, we’re taken back to Rome in 1973. Here, a young boy named John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer) roams the streets. He’s the grandchild of the richest man in the history of the world, J. Paul Getty, and his fame and success is known throughout the globe. Unfortunately for him, that leads to his kidnapping. The kidnappers attempt to contact John’s mother Gail (Michelle Williams), demanding millions of dollars in exchange for the safe return of her son. The problem is, Gail has long since lost any connections with the Getty’s, having married into the family and then getting a divorce. Essentially, she has no money. So, she teams up with a man named Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg) and begins a quest to either find her son or convince the reluctant J. Paul Getty to pay the ransom.
I want this film to be a success. It’s not the best film ever made, and I’ll get into why soon, but just out of respect for the craftsmanship and Scott’s unbridled dedication to what he believed in, this film needs to win back big time. It deserves it. They pulled off the impossible and they pulled it off to an almost seamless degree. For eagle-eyed viewers, Spacey still manages to sneak into a few wide shots here and there, and there’s a strange CGI-composited shot with Plummer over the top, but for the most part, the transition of actors works without flaw, and made this a better film than it ever would’ve been before.
Plummer is the film’s standout star, and not just because of how fast the turnaround period was. His performance here is off the charts good. It’s so restraint and calm, yet full of vicious intensity and greed. J. Paul Getty was not a nice man, yet at the same time, he was. Plummer’s performance is a perfect blend of naughty and nice, creating an understanding behind the man’s reluctance to give over any ransom money, while also stirring uproar and frustration over his self-indulgent attitude and narcissistic ways. A lot of the characters are underdeveloped vessels for the actors to board, especially Mark Wahlberg and Michelle Williams, but it’s Plummer’s Getty who’s complicated and fascinating.
Scott’s direction is all class, creating an effectively drab depiction of 1973 that’s brilliant in all technical aspects. The set designing, costuming, visual aesthetic and overarching feel of the period is executed flawlessly. You’re drawn into this world and locked inside, where everything is stunning and alive, never cheap or obviously a soundstage. You buy into all of it. But no matter how good it may look and feel, it’s hard to save ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD’s lackluster narrative and generic storytelling.
This being a true story elevates my interest in it, aided by a fascinating look at greed and the obsession the world has with money, making it a step above most run of the mill kidnapping dramas, but a lot of it just failed to entertain. You’ve seen a lot of this before. Sure, it actually went down like this, and a lot of it does fascinate and thrill, but most of it will have you checking your watch, hoping for the 132-minute runtime to reach its conclusion. The film starts way too late, spending too much of its first act in set up and flashback, then proceeds to repeat itself over and over. I lost track of the number of scenes where characters wait around for a phone call to start recording audio before answering.
When we do reach the third act, the familiarities go from annoying to numbing. It’s very bad. At that point in the film, where I should be feeling a swirling sensation of emotion, all I felt was boredom and frustration, which was furthered by a post-viewing Google search of how the true story actually went down. A great deal of the finale, which I won’t spoil, is fabricated or manipulated to benefit the film, but it results in a mediocre decision. The true story’s conclusion is far more fascinating than what happens in the film. A fact-based ending would’ve hit the film’s messages home far more effectively than how they choose to end it on screen.
The narrative shortcomings are hard to forgive, but Ridley Scott and co. manage to deliver a perfectly fine movie that at least tries to do something new and interesting within the kidnapping-drama genre, even if it doesn’t always come to fruition. I’m glad this film underwent the changes it did. I can’t even imagine it being nearly as great with any other actor in any of these roles. One could argue that this is Plummer’s film through and through, but in my eyes, it’s Scott’s all the way.
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