Film Review – All the Money in the World

All the Money in the World

All the Money in the World

The grandson of the world’s wealthiest industrialist and oil tycoon is kidnapped. Instead of paying the ransom though, the tycoon hires his best business negotiator to barter with the kidnappers into lowering the ransom. It’s a good setup and with the zeitgeist hovering around the overhauling tax cuts in favor of the nation’s wealthiest, there’s something interesting to work with in a story about a man willing to negotiate for a lower ransom of a kidnapped relative. The result unfortunately makes Ridley Scott’s second feature of the year, All the Money in the World, all that more disappointing if for the mixed bag it provides.

Caught somewhere between drama and thriller and social commentary, All the Money in the World is a movie in search of being a movie. That is, it’s unsure of what it is, so it tries to be many things and ultimately comes off frustrated with itself. The subsequent effect is a movie that I found myself constantly wishing was more enjoyable, because at times it certainly is.

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J. Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer) was named by Guinness Book of World Records in 1966 to be the privately richest person in the world. Perhaps most notoriously known for his frugalness, as a means of dodging taxes, Getty invested his company’s profits in rare art. When his grandson John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer) is kidnapped in Rome in 1973, Getty refuses to pay the ransom the kidnappers demand and instead decides to work them down in price first by hiring Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg), his best negotiator.

The complication to all this actually stems from a family rift and resulting estrangement that began when Gail Harris (Michelle Williams) divorced Getty’s son John Paul Getty II (Andrew Buchan) over drug abuse, and instead of wanting money in the divorce settlement simply asked for custody of their children. As the movie reveals to us Getty, Sr. took this as a personal affront and exiled Harris and her children from the family. All of this plays right into the kidnapping and Getty’s response to not pay the ransom.

Upon Getty’s refusal to pay and the hiring of Chase to negotiate, Harris decides to personally get involved for the sake of retrieving her son. Michelle Williams is a great actor and one of the few to rarely appear to be acting, so it adds to the disappointment when her character is given nothing to do aside from following Chase around and demanding something be done to get her son back. There’s a point in the movie where it’s difficult to tell if Williams’ performance is structured around Harris’ exhaustion or an undisclosed medicated effect. Either would be acceptable, yet neither is provided as contextual. And so much of the decisions here seem to go.

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Scott’s eye for detail and cinematographer Dariusz Wolski’s beautifully lensed shots are so well structured and extravagant the result begins to work against the subtext inherent in a story about the power plays and desperate grabs for capital between the wealthy and the needy. Scott’s style is perhaps too refined for something that requires more poignancy and vitality in its search for a voice. This isn’t a bad movie in any way so much as it is an unrealized one.

The only truly bad thing is Wahlberg’s stilted and confused performance, which isn’t aided by the now notorious reshoots involving Plummer’s replacement of Kevin Spacey and in which Wahlberg looks older, thinner and more confused. Christopher Plummer fills the role of Getty deftly, especially given his short preparation and performance time and the unrelated Charlie Plummer looks appropriately scared, especially when the kidnappers ratchet up the impatient and violent response to Getty’s holdout on the ransom. Somewhere in this the kidnapped Getty forms what I guess you could call a bond with one of his kidnappers, Cinquanta (Romain Duris), who eventually tries to help him in his release. The problem comes in when parallels between the kidnapped and the kidnappers tries to get infused in the story and coupled with the movie’s expensive look results in a miss, a little off the mark.




Benjamin Nason is a writer, film-maker and critic from the Pacific Northwest, where he lives with his cat Lulu.

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