FILM REVIEW – ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD. With Michelle Williams, Christopher Plummer, Mark Wahlberg, Charlie Plummer, Romain Duris. Written by David Scarpa. Directed by Ridley Scott. Rated R for language, some violence, disturbing images and brief drug content. 132 minutes.
The irony is that what ought to be something distracting us from the story of ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD turns out to be its great strength. Part of the fallout from Hollywood’s ever-widening sexual harassment scandal was the derailing of actor Kevin Spacey’s career. With the film already completed, it was decided to remove him from the movie and recast the role of J. Paul Getty with Christopher Plummer. Recasting is done from time to time, but this entailed nine days of shooting and then recutting the film.
Watching the movie one quickly forgets all about that because, as it turns out, Plummer is absolutely riveting. This was not a matter of a few scenes. It’s the major supporting role and he walks away with the film. This is going to be a case study in film acting for years to come.
The story is based on the true-life kidnapping of Getty’s grandson John (played by Charlie Plummer; apparently no relation) in Italy. It’s not clear if the kidnappers were revolutionaries or simply opportunists, but knowing John is the grandson of the richest man in the world (think: Getty Oil) and you can see why he’d be a target. However his parents are divorced and his mother Gail Harris (Michelle Williams) – J. Paul’s ex-daughter-in-law – has nothing like the money being demanded. And J. Paul turns out to be a miserly sort who has no inclination to pay the ransom. Instead, he sends his security chief Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg) to do what he can to get his grandson back without paying out any money.
The film shifts back and forth between the kidnappers (who are comically inept but no less dangerous) with their hostage, J. Paul always looking to turn things to his own advantage, and Gail and Fletcher navigating between the two as well as with the Italian authorities. One of the kidnappers (Romain Duris), takes a liking to John but that doesn’t help him when local mobsters become involved in wanting the ransom.
In telling the story of the kidnapping, which was notorious at the time it occurred in the early 1970s, director Ridley Scott and screenwriter David Scarpa are more interested in what great wealth does to people. For J. Paul it means never having enough. He spends millions on artwork but washes his own underwear to avoid paying for laundry service. For his son – John’s father – it means burning out as a drug addict. For Gail, it means being at the mercy of others while for John himself, whom J. Paul hoped to groom as his successor, it means not really fitting into the world.
The key to Plummer’s performance is not to play J. Paul like Scrooge (whom, coincidentally, he plays in the current “The Man Who Invented Christmas”) but as a man who can justify his actions in his own mind, even as we sense it’s really all about proving himself to his long-dead father who didn’t think he’d amount to much. Williams is suitably intense as the bereft mother, while Wahlberg wisely underplays a role where he is not meant to be the center of attention. As John, Charlie Plummer has the difficult task of playing the victim and coming to realize just how serious his situation has become.
As a thriller, albeit a historical one, “All the Money in the World” does the job, although not in ways we haven’t seen in other films. It is in Christopher Plummer’s tour de force as J. Paul Getty that it makes its mark, which can only amaze since he wasn’t supposed to be there at all.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.