All the Money in the World (2017)
Directed by Ridley Scott
It was just 22 scenes, a relatively short amount of screen time, but when director Ridley Scott decided to cut the disgraced Kevin Spacey from his newest film and hastily replace him with Christopher Plummer, he made a decision that could make or break “All the Money in the World.” Perhaps we’ll never know whether Spacey’s performance would have made the movie better, but honestly, it’s difficult to imagine the makeup-covered 58-year-old playing the 80-year-old oil tycoon as well as Plummer, whose presence makes any movie considerably better.
On a warm night in Rome on July 10, 1973, John “Paul” Getty III (Charlie Plummer…no relation) was thrown in a VW van and held captive for a ransom of $17 million. Only his grandfather, the original John Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer)—the richest man in the history of the world at the time—had that kind of money…but he was notoriously frugal, and refused to negotiate with these criminals. Paul’s mother, Gail Harris (Michelle Williams)—who divorced his father years prior and got custody of all their children—continued to try to convince her father-in-law to hand over the money. He refused to budge. He would, however, send a fixer, Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg) to try to negotiate with the kidnappers and get his grandkid back. Together, Harris and Chase tried to work around the roadblock that the world’s richest man had become.
“All the Money in the World” isn’t just a (dramatized) retelling of Paul’s kidnapping, it is a comprehensive account of every bit of relevant information that is necessary to contextualize it—flashbacks show how Getty made his fortune, why Paul’s parents divorced, and what kind of child Paul had been. David Scarpa’s adaptation of John Pearson’s book (Pearson also wrote the book about the Kray gangsters that became the source material for 2015’s “Legend”) smartly covers all of this ground in order to convince you that this unbelievable true story is worth investing your two hours in. But “All the Money in the World” works even better as a tense and dramatic thriller. Ironically, or maybe not so ironically, Paul’s kidnapping was only one of about 10 high-profile efforts between the years 1973 and 1975 where the ransom was around $3 million. No other three year span has ever come close to having so many extortions that were so financially successful. So, as remarkable as his story is, it actually wasn’t so unusual. But that doesn’t make it any less compelling. In fact, knowing he’s not the only one with such a story makes it more powerful, thinking of all the other people who were held for money they feared might never come. That’s the core of this movie—the fear of the captive, the fear of the mother, and the frustration with a family member stubbornly refusing to help in ways that everyone knows he can.
With “The Greatest Showman” also releasing in December, Michelle Williams had herself quite a month. Here, she burrows into the emotional center of Gail Harris, showing her fear and grief well. Mark Wahlberg is less remarkable, but he’s not bad—the Boston native is always consistent, even if his best work is never quite as good as some of his colleagues. But in a smaller role, it’s Christopher Plummer who makes this movie powerful. His character’s enigmatic personality—likable, but sly—drives the mystery of this dramatic story…will John Paul Getty help his grandson, or won’t he? Even if you disregard the fact that Plummer worked long hours at the last minute, including through Thanksgiving, to film all of his scenes, his performance would be notable. But when you remember how little time he had to prepare, you realize just how iconic this actor is.
“All the Money in the World” is an intense historical drama that stays thrilling from the first scene to the last. I never doubted that legends like Ridley Scott and Christopher Plummer could pull this off, but they made “All the Money in the World” one of the year’s best despite the significant setback.