All the Money in the World (2017) Review
TO BE A GETTY ….
English film director and producer Ridley Scott has taken moviegoers on a variety of cinematic adventures throughout his career. With a platform in the world of filmmaking, Scott has boasted a career of directing twenty-four theatrical motion pictures, embracing a wide range of variety of genres and film settings as well as signature of atmospheric, high concentrated visual style and having strong female characters in many of his films. While his directorial debut began back 1977 with the film The Duelist, Scott make his mark in Hollywood with the commercial breakthrough success of the science-fiction horror film Alien in 1979. From there, Scott’s directorial work shine within the catalogue of movies, with some becoming iconic. This includes his neo-noir dystopian sci-fi film Blade Runner in 1982, his historical 2nd Century Rome drama Gladiator in 2000 (which one an Academy Award for Best Picture), his military war / action feature Black Hawk Down in 2001, his sweeping 12th Century Jerusalem epic Kingdom of Heaven in 2005, and his adaptation of Andy Weir’s bestselling sci-fi book The Martian in 2015. Scott even revisited his Alien movie, which became a movie franchise series and produce several more films by different directors, returning to the sci-fi world by means of Prometheus in 2012 and Alien: Covenant in 2017 (both of which were set as prequels to the original Alien film). Now, director Ridley Scott along with Tristar Pictures (and Scott Free Productions) prepare to examine the lives of the Getty family and the infamous kidnapping of John Paul Getty III with the film All the Money in the World. Does this “based on a true story” feature prove to be cinematically memorable or does it fail to bring the film’s evidence to light, floundering under the somewhat scandal surrounding the movie?
In 1973, oil tycoon and Getty Oil found John Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer) is estimated as being the “richest man in the world”, stretching his vast wealth in business deals and the procurement of priceless artifacts and paintings. On the night of July 10th, Getty’s sixteen-year-old grandson John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer) is kidnapped at the Piazza Farnese in Rome and taken hostage, with a release ransom demanded by his captors for $17 million. John’s mother Gail Harris (Michelle Williams), having divorced John’s father a couple a years ago and turned her back on the privileges of being a Getty, quickly reaches out to John Paull Getty thereafter, in the hopes that he will pay the cost to save his grandson’s life. However, much to Gail shock, Getty publicly refuses to give into the ransom demands, casting John’s fate in doubt. Instead of shelling the money for his grandson’s release, Getty has his business manger and former CIA operative Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg) assist Gail and serve as Getty’s advisor on the situation; assessing the current state of things to best serve Getty’s decision and own interests. Having no interest in either Getty’s considerable fortune or allowing her family to be a pawn in his schemes, Gail does her best to convince Fletcher to prioritize her son over his boss’ concerns and get John returned safely, before his kidnappers hurt him and (eventually) kill him. As the clock continues to tick, John’s situation grows more and more complicated, forcing Gail and Fletcher into making difficult decisions and how to handle the man who has “all the money in the world” to do the right thing.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Like many out there, I do have some favorite movie directors out there that I like, with some including Aaron Sorkin, Steven Spielberg, Christopher Nolan and many others. As you could suspect, Ridley Scott is on this list as well, producing some great and memorable feature films that I’ve come to cherish. Naturally, my personal favorite would definitely have to be Gladiator (god, I just love that movie). I mean the story, the actors, the characters, the action, the score, the ending, almost every aspect of that movie I love and is definitely one of my all-time favorite movies. Additionally, I like Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven (I love the extended cut of the film), Blade Runner, and The Martian. Of course, like all directors out there, not every one of Scott’s pictures are good, producing some mediocre / sub-par feature films like 2010’s Robin Hood (which is set as a prequel adventure. This anger a lot including me) and the biblical remake epic Exodus: Gods and Kings (no one can out “Demille” Cecil. B. Demille’s classic The Ten Commandments). Plus, I think I’m one of the few that really did like Prometheus (and by extension Alien: Covenant). Still, director Ridley Scott (collectively) as a more successes than misses and his track record proves that.
This, of course, leads me back to my review for All the Money in the World, Scott’s 25th directorial feature film. To be quite honest, I actually never heard of either J. Paul Getty or the kidnapping of his grandson until I saw the trailer for this movie (I know…quite shocking!). Of course, I was curious to see this movie as it was being directed by Scott and the film’s trailer looked intriguing, especially in the film’s premise and it’s cast members (Williams, Wahlberg, and Spacey). Unfortunately, as many now know, All the Money in the World became a point of internets and media conversation in Hollywood within the recent months following the sexual scandal fallout of industry mogul Harvey Weinstein. As many accusations from women started to come forward against Weinstein’s disreputable behavior and sexual advances, so did the fallout on several other actors in Hollywood, including actor Kevin Spacey, who was accused of making sexual advance towards an individual who (at the time) was 14 years old. Because of this (and several other accusations that followed), many studios cut ties with Spacey, including his involvement in All the Money in the World as J. Paul Getty. With the studio removing Spacey from the project (the film was complete at the time) and with the film still keeping its original theatrical release date (2 months prior from when this happened), the role was recast and awarded to actor Christopher Plummer. Surprisingly, despite the quick turnaround time for reshoots and editing, All the Money in the World was ready for its release on December 25th, 2017.
As the media continued its interest in the recent sexual harassment / accusations in Hollywood, so did the attention All the Money in the World leading up to its release. I, myself, was one of those people, very curious in seeing how this movie would ultimately shape up (most notably in Plummer’s performance of Getty). While I did see the movie back in January 2018, I kept on pushing my review for the movie back and it just sort of slipped through the cracks. Now, I finally have some “free time” to write it (hooray!). So, what did I think of it? Well, I liked it. Despite having some flaws here and there, All the Money in the World proves to be a solid dramatic thriller, thanks to Scott’s directing, the film’s cast, and the story it tells. It may not be Scott’s best feature, but it’s definitely a worthy addition.
Based on true events and on the non-fiction book “Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty” by John Pearson, Scott approaches this tale of power, greed, and kidnapping in way that’s quite interesting, offering an alluring appeal to this almost dreary tale. Of course, Scott is up to the task, painting a solid thriller motion picture that (at the heart of the tale) is a woman’s trying task of trying to take on a business empire just to save her son from being killed. The film’s screenplay, which was penned by David Scarpa, spends the first twenty minutes or so in establishing the “lay of the land”, flashing backwards to explain J. Paul Getty’s wealth and demeanor, the introduction Gail Harris and her family (the misgivings of her husband John Paul Getty Jr.), the importance that J. Paul Getty has in mentoring his grandson. It’s a good setup to All the Money in the World before the film proceeds forward to the kidnapping / ransom of John Paul Getty III. From there, movie sets into the kidnapping / ransom aspect, which tells most of the bulk of the feature. This, of course, is to be expected with Scott helming the movie through some great sequences, most of which are centered around character’s conversation / dialogue. Naturally, there are few a twists and surprises (one infamous gruesome sequences that made me squirm in my seat), which keeps the film’s suspense and tension elevated at various parts. Much like what I said above, I really didn’t know much about the Getty Family, including the kidnapping of John Paul Getty III, so I was pretty engrossed in the narrative being told in All the Money in the World, finding the tale quite intriguing from the opening scene to the final text dialogue at the end, which I found to be even more interesting.
On a more technical level, All the Money in the World is well-made / well-crafted looking feature film, presented in an interesting way that any cinephile out there would enjoy. Together both production designer Arthur Max and cinematographer Dariusz Wolski (Scott’s frequent collaborators) succeed in bringing Getty’s world to life by mostly everything muting most of the bright colors and the usage of heavy shadows. This, of course, is in contrast to all the opulent and lavishing set-pieces / decorations that frame Getty’s world, making the luxury world that Getty enjoy more garnish and ostentatious rather than sublime and lavishing place of wealth. Additionally, the movie as a “dreary cloud” of unpleasantness through its characters and story through the usage of its visuals, utilizing the classic “mood” lighting and the unsympathetic details (both in setting and unsavory characters) found from the mighty halls of Getty’s estate to the dingy rooms where John Paul Getty III resides in captivity. With the movie’s set during the 70s, the film’s costume designer Janty Yates and set decorations Letizia Santucci provide a proper aesthetics of the film’s time period through the usage of wardrobe outfits and various set-pieces / decorations. Also, the movie’s musical score, which was composed by Daniel Pemberton, helps add that extra layer of “mood” music, especially in the scenes of sympathetic light on the situation and in those tense-filled moments. However, perhaps one of the most important people of this grouping to mention would have to be Claire Simpson, who was the film’s editor. While the variety of quick editing skills are use and, especially when the scenes are changing from character to character in heated conversations, what makes Simpson’s talent stand out is the actual reediting of several film’s sequences by replacing Spacey with Plummer. Given the quick time to get the reshoots done and the film completed, I was expecting a few scenes to be a bit jarring as if they just simply dropped Plummer into the scene. However, that wasn’t the case and Simpson’s work in achieving the movie’s ultimate final project should be commendable.
As gripping and engaging as it is, All the Money in the World does have some problematic points that it can’t overcome. For starters, the movie’s focus is a perplexing one. Yes, the main narrative of the feature is about Getty’s grandson being kidnapped and how the boy’s mother (Gail Harris) tries to circumnavigate her father-in-law’s iron will in order to bring her son home. Unfortunately, the actual kidnap aspect is (at times) the more weaker element of the movie, with many favorable and stronger scenes that feature Gail Harris and / or J. Paul Getty being the most interesting aspect. Like I said, it’s kind of a perplexing thing not to find the actual “kidnapping” scenes to be the juiciest part of a kidnapping movie. Additionally, those expecting a bio-drama on the complete history of J. Paul Getty in All the Money in the World will be disappointed. The character himself is quite interesting, especially given Plummer’s performance (more on that below), but he’s more like a large supporting player in the movie’s grand scheme. You almost just wish that the movie was solely about his “life and times” rather than this one particular event with his grandson being kidnapped. Also, the film, which is around roughly two hours and twelve minutes long, does have a few pacing problems here and there. The story is enticing and will presented, but there are few parts that just lag and could’ve been trimmed down slightly in order tighten the film’s narrative. Also, some of the story’s context could’ve been more fleshed out. A little bit more “who’s who” and “what’s what” kind of sort of thinking would’ve been beneficial throughout various parts of the film. Lastly, there’s one particular scene during the climax portion of the third act that just seems a bit farfetched. It’s indeed cinematic poignant and well-presented, but I have hard time believing that this scene happened at the same time at when the other main storyline thread was taking place. I can’t say what this scene is as it may spoil the movie, but you’ll know what it is when you see it.
The cast in All the Money in the World has some big-ticketed actors attached to the feature, bringing to life these real-life characters cinematically to the silver screen. Of course, the big “buzz” of this movie was on the replacement of actor Kevin Spacey with actor Christopher Plummer in the role J. Paul Getty. So, I’ll start with that one first. Rest assured that, despite the quick turning around time, the actual replacement Spacey with Plummer works seamlessly (again, thanks to the Claire Simpson’s editing work), finding Plummer fantastic in the work. Known for his roles in The Sound of Music, A Beautiful Mind, and The Man Who Invented Christmas, Plummer’s seasoned acting abilities definitely helps in bring this shrewd miser tycoon mogul to life. Though the character isn’t completely fleshed out (again, this isn’t a J. Paul Getty bio pic), Plummer’s commanding theatrical presences elevates the character to make him one of the most interesting pieces of the entire feature. The way he plays Getty is also commendable and probably (presumably) is an almost a dead-ringer to how the real-life J. Paul Getty would’ve acted. It’s also like that Plummer’s depiction of Getty is ripe for “character study” examination (in both atypical Film Studies college course or in Human Psychology 101). In the end, Plummer’s Oscar-winner talents shine (immensely) when he takes to the camera spotlight in All in the Money in the World. That being said, giving how much Plummer’s performance both “powerful” and “juicy”, it does make me wonder how actor Kevin Spacey’s would’ve handled the role of Getty. Would it better than Plummer’s portrayal? Or Worse? Or on the same level? It’s a question many will ponder in the classic “what if?” scenario.
It is a strange thing when the film’s supporting player (i.e. Plummer’s Getty) is the somewhat “de facto” main attraction of the feature, more so than the film’s main leads. That being said, All the Money in the World’s two main stars actress Michelle Williams and actor Mark Wahlberg provide some very solid performance in the respective characters of Gail Harris and Fletcher Chase. Williams, known for her roles in The Greatest Showman, My Week with Marilyn, and Blue Valentine, does give a fantastic portrayal of Gail, showcasing a quiet dignity and frustrating resilience in a multi-persona views, especially in those moments where she has to “put on” a polite face in appeal in Getty’s humanity (in order to save her son). The character itself is written well, finding Gail Harris not just a concerned bystander parent, but a mother who will do anything (even challenge the Getty’s empire) to secure her son’s safe return. To be sure, it’s a great role for any lead actress to land and Williams does do a good job in this particular role. Opposite William’s Gail for a good chunk of the feature, Wahlberg, known for his roles in Patriots Day, Deepwater Horizon, and The Departed, also gives a solid performance in his portrayal of ex-C.I.A. operative Fletcher Chase, who acts as J. Paul Getty’s interest in both handling Gail and in trying to secure a sound reason in Getty’s grandson kidnapping. Interestingly, given his recent previous works of being a lead in big action blockbusters (i.e. Transformers: The Last Knight) or in his larger-than-life “everyday” heroes he’s played in Peter Berg’s films (i.e. Lone Survivor, Deepwater Horizon, and Patriots Day), Wahlberg plays Chase in a more “subdued”, playing a real-life person who has to circumnavigate a powerful man as well as display that he’s always in control and adhere to his moral code. It may not be absolute best performance in his career, but Wahlberg’s portrayal of Chace is definitely what the movie needs and does a great job in the role.
Of course, mentioning both Williams and Wahlberg also leads to another one of All the Money in the World’s controversy that surfaced sometime after the movie’s release (again, my review is being written sometime after the film was released in theaters). Of course, I’m talking about the now publicly known pay difference between Williams and Wahlberg during their reshoots with Plummer. In case you didn’t know, Williams was only paid $80 dollars a day, while Wahlberg was paid $2 million dollars. This, of course, comes to light after all the “Harvey Weinstein” scandal in Hollywood and adds more fuel to the fire when the subject of equal pay for actresses in today’s Hollywood. Wahlberg did donate almost all of his reshoot money into charitable organization, but it makes you wonder why he was given that amount money and Williams so little. As the old Shakespearean quote goes “something is rotten in the state of Denmark”, with Denmark being today’s current Hollywood. Again, another point of discussion to be examined.
Behind Plummer, Williams, and Wahlberg, is actor Charlie Plummer (in no relation to Christopher Plummer), who plays John Paul Getty III, grandson to J. Paul Getty and son to Gail Harris. Plummer, known for his roles in Lean on Pete, King Jack, and Granite Flats, does a good job in acting abilities in making Getty III an intelligent resourceful young man (from a somewhat privilege life) that must use his wits to stay alive while in the clutches of his kidnappers. However, in comparison to the rest of characters mentioned above, the character of Getty III is a bit underdeveloped. This isn’t really much due to the film’s script or Scott’s ultimate vision of the film, but rather the whole “name of the game” aspect in a kidnapping movie. Like a lot of other kidnapping movies, the “kidnappee” is never fully developed as it’s usually the people around him (heroes and villains) that are more well-rounded. Still, Plummer’s Getty III is an intricate component in All the Money in the World and does work well within that narrative function. In conjunction with Plummer’s Getty III, actor Romain Duris (Heartbreaker and The Beat That My Heart Skipped) provides a substantial supporting role as Cinquanta, one of John’s captors who forms an unexpected bond with his young hostage. Other noteworthy cast members in supporting roles includes actor Marco Leonardi (Like Water for Chocolate and Once Upon a Time in Mexico) as Cinquanta’s boss Mammoliti, actor Timothy Hutton (The Good Shepherd and Leverage) as Getty’s attorney Oswald Hinge, and Andrew Buchan (The Nativity and Broadchurch) as Gail’s ex-husband and Getty III’s father John Paul Getty II (or John Paul Getty Jr.).
A kidnapped young man, his mother desperate plea for his rescue, and the “wealthiest man in the world” are the three main narrative beats in the movie All the Money in the World. Director Ridley Scott’s newest film takes a cinematic look in the lives surrounding “the richest man in the world”, spinning a tale of power, suspense, and resilience of the kidnapped case that shook the world. While there are a few noticeable problems in the movie, the feature itself is a well-crafted picture (akin to Scott’s visual and cinematic environments), a richly engrossing narrative, and a solid cast of actors / actresses, especially with the surprise recasting of Christopher Plummer in such a memorable role. To me, I actually liked this movie. Yes, I did have a few problems with this movie, but the film’s positives outweigh most of my negative remarks to make the movie a solid and enjoyable suspense / character thriller feature. Thus, I would give this film my “recommended” stamp of approval, especially to those who like suspense thrillers and / or the film’s cast (just to see Plummer as J. Paul Getty is a solid reason to see the movie). In the end, despite the controversy / rocky road the film’s pre-release faced, All the Money in the World is an interesting feature that like its tagline is “stranger than fiction”, but in a good theatrical and engaging motion picture, offering an interesting look into the world of being a Getty. However, the ultimate question that’s on everyone minds is this…. will Ridley Scott (or the studio execs behind the film) ever publicly release the Kevin Spacey version of All the Money in the World?
3.9 Out of 5 (Recommended)
Released On: December 25th, 2017
Reviewed On: April 5th, 2018
All the Money in the World is 132 minutes long and is rated R for language, some violence, disturbing images, and brief drug content