All the Money in the World was originally getting a lot of press for being an Oscar contender. With Ridley Scott directing and a reportedly fantastic performance from child molester Kevin Spacey, the film was set to start showing up in awards ceremonies everywhere. Then that child molester thing went public (or non-Hollywood public) and the film started getting press for an entirely different reason: Kevin Spacey was to be completely edited out, and everything was going to be reshot with Christopher Plummer in the role of J. Paul Getty.
Scott actually did it. In under a month, he replaced an actor using almost no digital fakery. Somewhere there’s a warehouse full of award screener DVDs with a version of the film that stars Kevin Spacey, but you wouldn’t know it from watching the movie on screen. It’s quite the feat. It’s just unfortunate the film doesn’t really deserve that much effort.
All the Money in the World
Director: Ridley Scott
Release Date: December 25, 2017
All the Money in the World has what sounds like a relentlessly interesting premise. It’s about the very true, and very complex story of how J. Paul Getty’s grandson was kidnapped and held for a ransom Getty refused to pay. Michelle Williams plays Gail Harris, the divorced wife of Getty’s drug addicted son. She hasn’t taken any money from Getty so when her son is kidnapped by communists she must turn to him to ask for the money. Getty refuses, instead enlisting ex-CIA fixer Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg) to track the kidnappers down and work out a deal. It was a big deal at the time as Getty was the richest man in the world, and the $17 million asked for would have been nothing to him.
The first problems with the movie really stem from the fact that not much happens, and things drag. Scott tries to inject some interest into the proceedings, but what we’re really watching is a guy sitting in a room with his kidnappers and then the mom waiting by the phone. There’s drama to be had here, but almost no tension. Nothing ever seems to amount to anything until the very end of the film when a brief chase sequence plays out. It’s not that the story couldn’t be interesting on film, it’s just that the film never puts it together in a compelling way.
A lot of this stems from the inability of Scott to dive into his characters. Everything feels like it’s almost 100 miles away, watching a play that the director doesn’t fully understand unfold. Getty’s motivations for not paying for his grandchild are spelled out, but it feels like exposition, not character. It all feels like filibuster without any understanding of the man or character despite Plummer’s best attempts to open him up. Meanwhile, both Gail Harris and Fletcher Chase have a lot more chances to expand as characters, but once again don’t seem able to go beyond the icon. The characters never open up into explanation, leaving the audience watching a play-by-play instead of a gripping interpersonal drama.
Scott seems pretty disinterested in his direction as well. It would be interesting to see what the Spacey cut looks like, but this cut feels flat. Plummer is secluded to a single location for most of the film, and when he isn’t there it’s mostly digital effects placing him elsewhere for brief shots. This leads to Scott making what feels like almost two different movies, both of which have a lifeless malaise to them thanks to strange color choices, and unenthusiastic direction. Nothing ever seems to grab Scott’s attention until he gets to direct the aforementioned chase at the end of the film.
He also plays it as straightforward as possible. Instead of inter-cutting flashbacks throughout the film to reinforce how the Getty family got to this point he plays it almost entirely chronologically, making it slow to a crawl at times. He even ditches a narration from the beginning of the film, which sets up Getty’s grandson as the storyteller — a compelling take — for a simple history lesson.
Still, it’s not like he’s made a bad movie, just a listless one. Everything feels like it was made more for TV than to win Oscars. The cast might have been into it the first time around, but reshoots seem to have taken it out of them. A lot of times the performances vary wildly, especially Wahlberg’s, his lose traction every other scene. Only Michelle Williams keeps her layered and nuanced character fully interesting throughout, but she isn’t given enough to really turn it into something special.
All the Money in the World takes a compelling story and tells it without any creativity or vigor. While it technically functions as a film, and as a conveyor of plot points, it never rises above this. While the big news is that Plummer is in for Spacey, it hardly seems that having another actor in there would affect the film enough to make it into something special since Scott doesn’t seem to want to do that. Evidently the reshoots costs millions of dollars, but all the money in the world couldn’t save this film from itself.