Unless this review is the first thing you’ve read online in the past three months, you will no doubt have been following the long-gestating public revelations of sexual misconduct in Hollywood as well as the seemingly endless line of enablers and abusers who continue to be brought to light.
Kevin Spacey was one of the first figures to be ousted, swiftly terminating the actor’s career as well as nixing a rumored awards campaign. Spacey had marquee status playing oil magnate J. Paul Getty, the richest man on earth once upon a time, in “All the Money in the World.”
That is, until recently. In the aftermath of Spacey’s victims revealing his abuse, notoriously workmanlike director Ridley Scott chose to reshoot with Christopher Plummer filling the role, rightfully gutting Spacey from the movie only slightly before its release. Yet the actor’s swift replacement barely deserves a footnote. Not only have Scott and his crew fulfilled the difficult task of last-minute coherence, they’ve also delivered a sturdy thriller with a mean streak all its own.
Inspired by true events, the film follows the kidnapping of Getty’s grandson John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer) and the subsequent negotiations for his release. After receiving demands from her son’s captors, Gail Harris (Michelle Williams) turns to her impossibly wealthy ex-father-in-law in hopes that he’ll pay the ransom of $17 million, pocket change to a man like Getty.
But of course, the financial megalomaniac refuses to budge, needlessly protracting his grandson’s captivity. What follows is an intrinsically stilted spin on the kidnap thriller, one in which the complicity of inactive bystanders is placed in the crosshairs as opposed to the hostility of the captors.
Getty largely occupies the story’s peripheries, but his miserly indifference casts a shadow across the action. Plummer gives an expertly poised performance, indulging in an overinflated, Scrooge-like demeanor while lending his scenes a sardonic edge through the bone-dry bluntness of his dialogue. It’s hardly revelatory, but Plummer is an old pro; his assured work makes it difficult to imagine any other actor in the role.
While the actor’s pinch hit is worth saluting, the film remains Michelle Williams’ show. Equipped with a sharply enunciated, pseudo-Grace Kelly accent, Williams instills this inherently stagnant material with both the perennial urgency and increasing exasperation it demands. The actress makes Harris’ strenuously corked discipline felt at every dead end, the frustration toward both this superlative maternal nightmare and Getty’s absurd possessiveness always simmering beneath her resiliently steely posture.
Mark Wahlberg also puts in solid work as the magnificently named Fletcher Chase (not a fictionalization, amazingly), the former secret agent who becomes Getty’s private fixer. The pairing makes for an unlikely two-hander, so effective that waiting around a telephone seems thrilling.
That this “true story” plays the facts like a fiddle is of little consequence. The film foregoes plausibility by foregrounding its Hollywood identity — how could it not with Wahlberg wearing glasses? To that point, by positioning the film as hyperbolized Wikipedia, the story’s fundamental inactivity becomes a prominent, borderline provocative force.
The decadence on display, from Getty’s lavishly adorned manor to the ancient European locales, are drained of their vibrancy by the film’s washed-out color palette. There’s a luxurious veneer to these images, but they possess none of their traditional pleasures. Likewise, the film’s air of prestige is undercut by the fundamental inconsequentiality of its situation. A pitch-black sense of humor emerges, as does an acutely tragic exasperation.
What withholds the film from transcending its sublime proficiency is a nonchalance toward emotional continuity. Though the performances are uniformly strong, there’s an implied humanistic tissue that’s noticeably absent. Stagnant stakes make for an intriguing story, but the piece’s exacting nihilism loses potency as it approaches an ostensibly enthralling rescue in the home stretch. The film bares its fangs but doesn’t bite.
Still, Scott spins a good yarn, and he enthusiastically embellishes this one in all the right spots. “All the Money in the World” is a bona fide holiday ham, boasting powerhouse performances and an off-kilter setup that produces more chills than thrills. Against all odds, Scott crafted another absolute bummer of a movie, riding the highs of Hollywood before leaving viewers utterly despondent by the credits.
Contact Jackson Murphy at [email protected].