All the Money in the World is burdened by the behind the scene feat that is more impressive than the overall movie. That Ridley Scott re-shot so much and that it is almost impossible to tell is damn near miraculous. I just wish it was a better movie to warrant it.
John Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer) at one time was one of the richest men ever to live. An oil baron who was as ruthless as he was cheap. There’s a level of wealth that once reached causes a sort of torpor in personal development. People begin to view you less as a person and more as something megalomaniacal or ethereal.
Scott’s All the Money in the World is at its best when it explores the paradox of Getty’s miserly yet extravagant lifestyle. Plummer’s performance is free from any begs of sympathy. It is a stark and clear portrayal of a man alone in a cocoon of his own making.
Unfortunately, All the Money in the World isn’t nearly as interesting or engaging in any other aspect. It’s a movie about a kidnapping, and that’s it. The way it’s about the kidnapping is bland but serviceable. Scott is a vastly talented director, but somehow All the Money in the World never seems to really get going.
The script as adapted by David Scarpa lacks any real sense of tension or danger. It’s a procedural that somehow never really has any sense of procedure. Paul (Charlie Plummer) is kidnapped off the streets of Rome. The kidnappers call his mother Gail (Michelle Williams) and demand seventy million dollars.
Gail is the ex-wife of Getty’s son and thus not part of the Getty family or fortune. She tries to tell the kidnappers, but they do not believe her. At the Getty estate, she beseeches her father-in-law for help, but he refuses to even see her. He instead puts his top security man on the case Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg).
At one point Fletcher discovers that there is a very real possibility that Paul kidnapped himself. Fletcher informs Getty of this and calls off the investigation. It’s not until the kidnappers send them Paul’s ear that they learn they were wrong. If that wasn’t enough Getty is seeming more and more adverse to paying the ransom.
Getty’s claim of “not being able to pay” is met with laughter by Fletcher. It’s met by outrage by the kidnappers. It’s as if the universe is conspiring to be so absurd so that no one in either party can believe the words the other party is speaking. The kidnappers led by Cinquanta (Romain Duris) scoff when Fletcher starts to unbelievably haggle down the cost of the boy’s ransom. I haven’t even mentioned that the original kidnappers grow so tired of waiting that they sell Paul to another group of kidnappers.
Sometimes life can be more absurd than fiction. The problem with All the Money in the World is how straight it takes it’s material. The richest man alive is claiming he can’t pay a paltry seventy million dollars, refuses to pay, and even after receiving an ear, is insistent that they lower the price; it’s ludicrous. Except Scott and Scarpa choose to tell it with a straight face.
All the Money in the World takes itself far too seriously considering how shockingly empty of any subtext the movie is. Toward the end, there is a scene where the kidnappers chase Paul through the streets of Rome at night. Fletcher and Gail chase after them, each group desperately searching for Paul. If you’ve seen one nighttime chase through the streets of Rome in the 70’s, you’ve seen them all. It takes a great talent to film a scene in such a cliche and somehow lackluster manner as Scott does.
Michelle Williams as Gail is a bright spot when we’re away from Plummer. Williams’s Gail is much more an affected performance than Plummer’s. It’s more theatrical with her thick Manhattan accent and the way she seems to be eternally holding a cigarette in hand. It’s not bad so much as showy. Her theatricality is even more exposed when put next to the bland turn of Fletcher.
Wahlberg continues the streak of playing improbably named characters. Earlier this year in Michael Bay’s Transformers: The Last Knight he played a man named Cade Yeager. Somehow Wahlberg has found a name, Fletcher Chase, that feels more made up, even though it’s an actual name. To make matters worse, Wahlberg seems to be sleepwalking through the performance. His scenes with Williams and Plummer are saved only because of the magnitude of talent on the other side of the screen.
Visually All the Money in the World looks beautiful, but its beauty is only frame deep. Dariusz Wolski, the cinematographer, washes out the color and gives the film a faded look. My guess would be an attempt to make it seem as if it were made in the seventies, but it largely fails. When Fletcher tells Getty about his suspicions about Paul planning his own kidnapping we see a heater in front of a fireplace. Getty is so cheap he won’t even use firewood. Until the next time we see Getty with a roaring fire, and every time after that.
All the Money in the World is quite simply underwhelming. It is a true story that lacks any sensationalism, which is nice, but it also lacks any kind of real tension or drama. Apart from the scene where they cut off Paul’s ear, which had me squirming in my seat and covering my eyes, the movie is largely ineffective.
It’s a shame. Scott replaced a major character with a new actor and re-shot All the Money in the World in an astonishingly short amount of time. It’s an even bigger shame that’s it’s really the only thing worth talking about.