All the Money in the World (2017) Review

Inspired by the true events, All the Money in the World revolves around the 1973 kidnapping of 16-year-old John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer) and the unwillingness of Gail Harris’ (Michelle Williams) wealthy billionaire father-in-law (Christopher Plummer) to pay the US$17 million ransom.

By now, the biggest publicity of All the Money in the World isn’t about how agile and proactive an 80-year-old director like Ridley Scott managed to work on three high-profile projects in different capacities within the same year that includes directing Alien: Covenant this summer and serving as one of the executive producers in Blade Runner 2049.

Instead, it was Kevin Spacey’s alleged sexual misconduct that prompted Scott to recast his original role of John Paul Getty with Christopher Plummer in the last-minute reshoots. The scandal was, of course, happened a month before the movie’s release date on Christmas Day in stateside. Normally, this would mean the movie has to be postponed until next year instead. But Scott manages to pull off the impossible feat. After nine days of reshoots and an additional US$10 million budget, he has successfully completed his project and even able to get the movie released in the cinemas as scheduled.

And above all is Christopher Plummer’s sublime performance as John Paul Getty. Given all the last-minute reshoots and whatnot, it was impressive enough to see how an 88-year-old Hollywood veteran like Christopher Plummer able to play a significant role so well. I’m not sure how Kevin Spacey originally fared in his role prior to the scandal. But what I saw on the screen is the kind of performance worthy of an award’s attention (At the time of writing, Plummer has already secured a Golden Globes nomination for Best Supporting Actor). He plays the role of John Paul Getty with such cold and vile perfection. Come Oscar time, I hope he will land a slot as one of the nominees as well.

The rest of the actors are equally captivating. Michelle Williams delivers a heartfelt performance as the overwrought mother who has to endure not only the pressure of her kidnappers who abducted her teenage son but also the cruelty of her money-minded father-in-law who keeps refusing to pay the ransom. Romain Duris gives a solid support as Cinquanta, a compassionate kidnapper who formed an unlikely friendship of sorts with his abductee, Paul (Charlie Plummer). Mark Wahlberg fares lesser as an ex-CIA operative Fletcher Chase. But at least he’s a mile better than the one he played in the much-maligned Transformers: The Last Knight.

As for the movie itself, All the Money in the World offers all the classic Scott’s visual aesthetics. Scott’s signature use of shadow and lighting techniques are on full display here, which suits the cold-hearted theme of this movie. David Scarpa’s adapted screenplay from John Pearson’s 1995 book Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty, in the meantime, is a mixed bag. The problem here is that the movie tries to explore both sides: the kidnapping drama itself and the backstory surrounding the heartless and greedy nature of John Paul Getty. So, if you are expecting a cinematic equivalent of Hollywood kidnapping drama like 1996’s Ransom, this isn’t the movie for you.

Still, that doesn’t mean Scott completely abandons the thrill altogether. As a visual storyteller who knows how to evoke a shock reaction from the viewer (his 1979’s Alien quickly came to mind), there is one queasy sequence which bound to be a classic: a graphic ear mutilation scene that reminds me of the severed ear in 1992’s Reservoir Dogs. Overall, All the Money in the World works efficiently enough as a dark morality tale about an indifferent rich people but falls short as an actual kidnapping drama.