All the Money in the World Review: Ridley Scott (Just Barely) Pulls it Off

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As crazy as the story of John Paul Getty negotiating down his kidnapped grandson’s ransom is, one of the craziest stories of 2017 has been Kevin Spacey being cut from and replaced in All the Money in the World just a month before its release. It feels wrong to call the outpouring of accusations against those who committed sexual assault a victory, simply because so many people had to suffer for us to get to this point. But were director Ridley Scott and newly signed star Christopher Plummer to pull this off, All the Money in the World would be one of the few victories of this industry wide scandal—proof that art didn’t have to suffer at the hands of the artists who committed these heinous acts. The Hollywood version of the story would have the film go down as a classic, but in reality, it just has to be merely good. And it is good, though just barely.

Little about All the Money in the World‘s method of storytelling is enthralling, especially in the front half. Scott has rarely in his career been so torn between strong ideas and tension building, to the point where he doesn’t quite succeed in either at the start. As told here, the story of John Paul Getty III’s (Charlie Plummer) kidnapping in Rome in 1973, the event that starts the film, puts forward an effort to examine greed and celebrity. Through flashbacks, we meet J. Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer) as he extends an olive branch to his estranged son (Andrew Buchan) and his wife Gail Harris (Michelle Williams). But once his son gets involved in drugs and Gail divorces him, that olive branch snaps. This flashback-heavy portion of the film feels like Scott is jumping from one important piece of historical context to the next, without ever really pausing to let any of them resonate.

That’s where Plummer comes in, playing the notoriously frugal multi-billionaire with a touch of humanity beneath his calculated coldness. (It’s hard not to wonder if Spacey, given his recent Frank Underwood-style typecast, elicited a comparable level of nuance. Likely not.) He’s the glue that holds the film and all its ideas together, at least until the tension kicks in.

Once firmly focusing on the rescue effort of John Paul Getty III, the film’s narrative finds its footing in the difficult negotiations between the Getty estate, overseen by former CIA operative Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg), and the boy’s captors. Scott puts on display his usual strengths honed over decades of filmmaking. There are some incredibly tense scenes here, though they’re successful more for how Scott builds his scenes than how he builds his characters.

But even though All the Money in the World has its notable shortcomings, that it’s successful at all is something of a miracle, considering what it took to make it to the big screen in a way Scott deemed ethical. It may not be the earth-shattering, middle-finger of a movie many of us wanted it to be, but I’ll take it. Grade: B-

By Matt Dougherty

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