The great Herman Melville once wrote: “money, you think, is the sole motive to pains and hazard, deception and deviltry, in this world. How much money did the devil make by gulling Eve?” Melville made his answer to the question of what good money does very clear. Nothing but harm and misguided appetites, he said. But what if human life had a price – if the question was not ‘what is money good for?’, but rather, ‘how much is a life worth?’ This is the central question raised in and throughout Ridley Scott’s crime drama All the Money in the World.
In the public consciousness, the film is most notable for the last-minute decision made by Scott to replace a now disgraced Kevin Spacey in the lead role as multi-billionaire J.P. Getty after controversial sexual assault allegations rose to the surface. Scott re-cast his original choice with veteran actor Christopher Plummer for witching hour re-shoots, and made an incredible decision in doing so. Plummer both enamours and galls the audience as the cantankerous oil man, who was, at the time of the film’s story, the richest man who had ever lived.
The story follows the true story of the frantic and turbulent kidnapping of Getty’s grandson Paul Getty in the 1970s by Italian mobsters – setting a ransom of four million dollars for his release – and the pecunious grand patriarch’s refusal to pay. The earlier sequences in the film raise certain questions about narrative focus: what is the central story and more importantly, who is the central character? The film oscillates back and forth between flashbacks and the story of Paul Getty’s kidnapping, though we’re not so sure who we should be primarily focusing on. While J.P. Getty is an almost exaggerated ‘bad guy’, there are several moments which obfuscate our understanding of his seemingly selfish intentions, leaving us wondering if we should in fact be sympathising with him. Surely this is in many parts due to Plummer’s performance. It is a triumphant turn that accentuates a sense of undeniable callousness, behind the lost and broken eyes of an old man tragically poisoned by his own fortune.
As the film progresses, the story becomes less about Getty’s recalcitrant attitude towards paying the ransom and more about the struggle of Gale Getty, Paul Getty’s desperate mother played by the astounding Michelle Williams, and Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg), the family’s private ex-CIA employee tasked with bringing back the young Getty. In an Audrey Hepburn-type voice, Williams elucidates the hopelessness of dealing with an insatiable man, an ‘empire’ who decides that dealing with the life of a family member is much the same as any other business deal.
The film glistens with an understated suaveness; the camera elegantly trundles around, bringing us in and out of moving sequences leaving a consistent sense of thrilling urgency from Williams, that somehow blends perfectly with the still medium coolness that seems to surround Plummer’s character. The brilliant and insane eleventh-hour re-shoots might have, under any other director, left a final product that feels overwhelmed and rushed. But All the Money in the World edges and dances around the screen with a polished gloss that may be, stylistically, one of Ridley Scott’s best.
Film reviewed at Cineworld, Edinburgh.
Image: US Weekly