I’m “biast” (con): hot and cold on Ridley Scott lately
I have not read the source material
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
Well, it’s one way to ensure that your movie is remembered in the annals of cinema: replace one of your leading actors after the film is finished, reshoot and reedit and do all the other ancillary work (new posters!) in a mere few weeks, and still meet your release date. Nothing like this had ever been done before in Hollywood, but Ridley Scott pulled it off, removing now-disgraced Kevin Spacey from his All the Money in the World and replacing him — at a reported cost of more than $10 million — with Christopher Plummer, and almost seamlessly, to boot. There’s one cheesy green-screen shot of Plummer early in the film, but it’s brief, and no big deal.
Alas, though, that this is the most interesting thing about All the Money in the World: its inevitable place as a footnote in film history, an artifact of a moment in time when Hollywood was suddenly embarrassed by the bad behavior of its powerful men. This is ironic in all sorts of directions, like how Plummer (The Man Who Invented Christmas, Danny Collins) ends up being almost the best thing about the movie; it’s mostly pretty inert except when he’s onscreen, and the actor has now been nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance here. But it’s ironic, too, because Money wants to be all about a powerful man’s bad behavior, yet it’s never as gripping as Scott’s last-minute Hail Mary pass to save his movie.
This is the story of the notorious kidnapping of billionaire oil magnate J. Paul Getty’s (Plummer) 16-year-old grandson — John Paul Getty III, called Paul (Charlie Plummer, no relation) — in Rome in 1973 by members of an organized-crime group (not the Sicilian mob, but similar), and how Getty refused to pay the requested $17 million ransom. This was front-page news all over the world, and it went on for months: Paul was snatched in July and… well, if you don’t know how his ordeal ended, I won’t tell you. But you’d hardly guess from this film that that ending didn’t come until December of that year: there’s not much of a sense of the passage of time here. Events plod along on a rather even emotional keel, and a low-key one at that, with barely any sense of urgency at all, even as the months are supposedly piling up. You’d be forgiven for believing that perhaps it’s only a matter of days, maybe a couple of weeks at most, during which Paul’s mother, by this time divorced from Getty’s son John Paul Getty II (Andrew Buchan: Nowhere Boy), tries to convince her former father-in-law to cough up the dough (she has no money of her own). As Gail Harris, the kidnapped boy’s mother, Michelle Williams (Suite Française, Oz the Great and Powerful) is her usual passionate self, intoxicating to watch and impossible to take your eyes off, but the script doesn’t give her a lot of room to maneuver. She doesn’t have much opportunity to play what we can only assume is an increasingly distressed and anxious mother — one who is also juggling other younger children, who must also be rather distressed — when the movie only has time for her as chief negotiator with Getty on behalf of her son.
Even at two and a quarter hours runtime, there’s simply too much ground Money wants to cover of this sprawling story. Screenwriter David Scarpa (The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Last Castle) — working from the book by John Pearson originally entitled Painfully Rich — can’t decide which of his story threads is the most important, and keeps jumping around them, leaving them sometimes just as they’re warming up. He wants us to understand that one of the kidnappers, “Cinquanta” (Romain Duris: Mood Indigo, Populaire), starts to feel protective of Paul, and while we may presume that a kind of relationship develops between them over the months, we don’t see much of it. (The other kidnappers are barely characters, and yet there are moments with them that would have a lot more impact if we knew them better.)
If the film mostly can’t be bothered with drama, perhaps Mark Wahlberg’s (Daddy’s Home 2, Patriots Day) part of the tale will offer suspense and action? He plays ex-spook Fletcher Chase, now Getty’s trusted security fixer, and he’s trying to do the detective work to find the kidnappers while the Italian police stumble over the case. But that never catches fire. Only the scenes in which Plummer gets to play Getty as a wealthy miser, more concerned with things than people — he can possess things, you see, while people may refuse to be bought — come with the sort of sting the entire movie should be ringing with.
And then, in the final 40 minutes or so, All the Money in the World suddenly springs to life: the finale is tense and exciting. It’s too bad it’s a slog to get there.