Money and power corrupt those who wield them. It’s a near-indisputable fact at the heart of All the Money in the World’s stories, both on-screen and behind the scenes. Having to rapidly reshoot 22 scenes in order to excise exposed sexual abuser Kevin Spacey, a wealthy and powerful man who had used those privileges to get away with crimes for decades, All the Money in the World should by all rights be a mess. In its own way, Ridley Scott’s film (his second of 2017) is a bit of a jumble, but never when you’d expect it to be, Christopher Plummer’s last minute replacing of Spacey slotting in seamlessly.
Plummer plays J Paul Getty, an oil magnate and the world’s first billionaire whose cold dream of a family business dynasty is halted by the kidnapping of his grandson, J Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer, no relation). The young Paul’s mother Abigail (Michelle Williams) is distraught to learn of his abduction by chancer bandits, a crisis only worsened by the elder Getty’s miserly refusal to part with even a penny of the demanded ransom. Even when Paul is handed over to the far crueller Mafia, Getty holds fast, forcing Abigail, with the support of ex-CIA man Fletcher Chace (Mark Wahlberg) to retrieve her son through other means.
David Scarpa’s script doesn’t quite know where to put the exposition, packing a lot of stodgy family histories into the opening 15 minutes, and then trusting the true-story background of the film to fill in the sometimes slightly confusing gaps once the action starts rolling. It makes for a film that can’t quite find its rhythm or a consistent energy. Thankfully, when it’s good, it’s really good – Scott has an eye for thrills that most directors simply don’t, whether in heated conversations or an superbly executed armed raid on a criminal camp.
With a washed out colour palette and cold sheen over everything, Scott also manages to avoid glorifying the spectacle of Getty’s life. Most other films can’t help but be intoxicated by opulence, even when their subject is a quantifiably awful man, but All the Money in the World keeps a disgusted distance from the Getty estate, wringing more dark laughs than awed gasps out of the settings. Plummer (Scott’s original choice for the role) proves to be the perfect ally in this endeavour, wrapping a film of sickly evil over Getty and his money.
Obvious moral imperatives aside, Plummer is a far better choice than Spacey. Closer to Getty’s actual age, he doesn’t have to be squashed beneath distracting old man prosthetics and, at 88 years old, Plummer can get the genuine physical vulnerability of Getty across in a way that Spacey simply couldn’t have. A scene in which Getty wakes up confused and alone, wandering around his mansion without even putting his dentures in, is particularly excellent, and you can’t imagine any other actor doing such a good job with it. The cast’s other Plummer is quietly great, as is Romain Duris as empathetic captor Cinquanta.
Michelle Williams is solid, though her clipped mid-Atlantic accent is a bit all over the place, and it’s certainly not a performance that ranks with her sublime recent work in Manchester by the Sea and Certain Women. Meanwhile, Mark Wahlberg is hardly stretching himself as ‘distant but moral hired muscle’, but he’s fun to watch nonetheless. All the Money in the World is an entertaining thriller and yet further proof of octogenarian Ridley Scott’s boundless energy, but is almost certain to be overshadowed by the honestly rather more interesting story of its manic reshoots right at the centre of Hollywood’s sex abuse scandal.