- All the Money in the World (2018)
Ridley Scott pictures this scene in J. P. Getty’s English mansion: the head of security, Fletcher Chase, turns to the world’s richest man and says, “No one has ever been richer than you are at this moment. What would it take for you to feel secure?” The businessman turns to him, stern stare fixed on his conversational partner, uttering just one word: more. Is it greed, or the actual care for the safety of the rest of the family? We’re invited to re-evaluate what it means as the director adds fuel to the flame in All the Money in the World.
In the late Sixties, a grandson of the oil magnate John Paul Getty was lured into a truck in the dangerous part of Rome, kidnapped by people related to the Calabrian mafia. His grandfather stubbornly refuses to pay the ransom, to the surprise of the family and the media world, reasoning that if he did, the other members of his family would be at risk. The film takes us through the handful of possibilities – criminal attention, fraud and stinginess of the head of the family among them – switching between the places and events seamlessly and trying to understand the politics, power struggles and logic that fuels the family life behind the closed doors.
The film made headlines because of Ridley Scott’s decision to replace the leading man last minute in the light of the allegations that saw the light of the day. Besides doing the right thing and deciding to run against the clock, the director made a thoughtful casting choice, too: the performance of Christopher Plummer is a highlight. Despite being reshot amid Kevin Spacey controversy, it doesn’t feel rushed or forced. In fact, Plummer takes over the screen with an immaculate understanding of his character. Arrogance and stubbornness come through his gestures and words, leaving also some space for calculated coldness and pressure built on a noble persona recognised as such by others. Effortlessly, Plummer manages to anger and surprise us: the contradictory sequences in which he expresses the love for his grandchildren, then turns to investing in objects rather than people, compose nicely to display his conflicted behaviours. His Getty is terrifyingly believable, living off his influence, and if there’s one thing to see this film for, the actor’s performance is surely one of them.
The multimillionaire’s story is punctuated by the people in his life who allow us to see him from different perspectives. Michelle Williams also has a whole lot of space to create her character: as a mother struggling to fight the empire as well as the kidnappers, she’s wonderfully dramatic in her role. However, this can’t be said about Mark Wahlberg’s role, that recalls a fair selection of his previous work: a crystal-clear man that just progresses to doing the right thing every time has a robotic feel to his character. It feels that Scott glamourified and simplified Fletcher Chase, a man with a complicated history on his own, a fair bit – but it’s not enough to provide a weighty opposition to Plummer’s character. And finally, we’ve got Charlie Plummer (last year’s Best Young Actor winner in Venice) as young Getty, who is sketched interestingly as we’re introduced to the family story, but never goes beyond this initial framing because of the slight script limitations. We see his life through a glimpse at implications, and it’s a pity that his character seems to float on the source, not utilising Plummer Junior’s abilities to the maximum.
Utilising these portrayals, Scott builds a solid storyline that weaves together a handful of locations and a variety of different perspectives. Although it does tick off all the qualities of the list of an Oscar-courting biopic, a handful of performances take us on an emotional journey that swivels in mystery a couple of times before the finale. Along the way, the director considers several reasons for the kidnapping. While he keeps it at the centre of events, he decides to let the story heroes reveal their standpoints. It’s a decision that proves excellent for a handful of them, but also leaves us hungry for more when it comes to the others – the storyline does keep us exciting, but it also ignites our curiosity for Getty The Third’s and Chase’s past, which are mentioned (for example, “I played with fire” moment for the young heir and “well, in CIA we did all these things” for the head or security) but aren’t exactly magnified.
Altogether, thanks to the fabulous performances often executed under pressure and still capturing the essence of the characters flawlessly, All the Money in the World is a solid effort from Ridley Scott. Although some story arches could’ve been chiselled for full emotional resonance, the movie still works as a re-introduction of interesting narrative to the audiences, and it’s worth watching for Plummer and Williams dedicating themselves to their storylines alone.
All the Money in the World was released in the UK on the 5th of January 2018.