Review: All the Money in the World

Williams and Plummer are fantastic adversaries nominally on the same side in Scott’s snappy greed is good thriller. What price freedom?

While a new Ridley Scott movie dropping generally attracts a fair bit of attention, the hullaballoo surrounding his sacking of Kevin Spacey from the role of sneering oligarch J Paul Getty in the midst of the #metoo revelations and breakneck replacement and reshoots with Christopher Plummer has ensured that all the column inches in the world have already been written about All the Money in the World.

All news is good news, hey? But does this dramatization of the real-life kidnapping of his scion John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer, no relation) by Calabrian mobsters on the streets of Rome, adapted by David Scarpa from a true crime book by John Pearson, live up to all the noise created by Spacey’s disgrace?

For my money, yes, yes it does. It’s actually ridiculous to think that Spacey smothered in unconvincing prosthetics was ever considered a good idea, especially given just how malignantly good Plummer is, stealing every scene as the cold hearted man who would rather protect his own unimaginable wealth rather than run the risk of more extortion by bailing out his grandson.

Given the exaggeratedly wastrel behaviour of his son JPGII (Andrew Buchan), the hard-hearted refusal to fork out is made all the more cutting by flashbacks suggesting a generational skip, with his grandson lined up as his intended protégé.

Is this really about the bank balance or does he suspect a betrayal? Scott has Plummer keep you guessing, but it’s never in doubt that the mad, bad old man is far from what he would see as a bleeding heart.

Michelle Williams, as his ex-daughter-in-law Gail, is a brilliant counterpart to his steely indifference, conveying with every sinew in her body a mother’s horror at her son’s terrifying predicament and the anguished despair held breathless between every gruff telephone update from captor Cinquanta (Romain Duris). Estranged by both husband and his venomous father, who no doubt sees her custody of his grandchildren as another kind of kidnapping, their heated battles over how to proceed are dramatic catnip.

Mark Wahlberg is merely serviceable as Fletcher Chase, a former CIA man who now handles the Getty patriarch’s dirty business. There’s a nice bit of meta-commentary on his mansplaining to Gail that in turn further jeopardises her son and sets his grandfather harder against him, and further from releasing the funds on which his life depends. This is a man so mean that he has a phone box installed in his sprawling mansion to force guests to pay for their own calls all the while splashing vast sums on dubiously sourced and dubious provenance artworks that can never be displayed publicly.

This belligerence continues right up until an unfortunate package arrives, and even then there are further games to be played. When Chase and Gail set off on the trail, there’s plenty of tension to be had, but there’s just as much in tense boardroom wrangling.

Where Scott could have done more work is in the depiction of the snatched son, a passive presence here with the younger Plummer making minimum impact on what little he has to work with. A grizzled Duris fares better as his conflicted captor, but the other Italian mobsters are stock standard stereotypes.

If the Italian end of the job is a little lacking, it would seem that’s because Scott is far more interested in the family duel between Gail and JPG senior, and it’s in their stubborn tussle that All the Money excels, borne on the mighty shoulders of Plummer and Williams. It’s also a gorgeous looking film, handsomely shot by Dariusz Wolski who also handled The Martian and Alien: Covenant. The meticulous production values of the 70’s setting are also breathtaking.

Scott is admittedly more concerned with motivation than gangsters and their guns, but then the real criminal here is the man at the very top of the pile. The movie’s savvy skewering of caustic capitalism and a new frontier in the wealth of the 1% announces the oncoming greed is good mantra of the next decade and it’s a whole lot of fun for my money.

Stephen A Russell @SARussellwords