Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World is a mighty, sprawling epic “inspired by true events” rather than strictly based upon fact. Yet anything too iffy is mostly offset by a strong cast and some tense and gripping scenes, especially into the second half.
It’s also had a lot of publicity after Kevin Spacey, starring as J. Paul Getty, was cut out at great expense and Christopher Plummer was quickly filmed filling in (he was an original contender for the part along with Jack Nicholson and Gary Oldman, apparently). Taking into account the speed with which he had to work, the now-88 Plummer surprisingly offers a formidable performance, and one that Scott has subtly suggested might be just a shade warmer and more human than Spacey’s portrayal.
We open in Rome in 1973, with an initial almost-black-and-white look calling attention to the careful period detail and ‘70s colours (all that beige!). The 16 year old and rather hippie-looking John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer, no relation), grandson of J. Paul Getty, the world’s first billionaire, is shown walking through crowds and past some friendly streetwalkers, and then he’s grabbed by a group of kidnappers led by the intense Cinquanta (French actor Romain Duris, memorable even though his put-on Italian accent slips rather too often).
The senior Getty is duly notified, as is Paul’s mother Gail Harris (Michelle Williams), and David Scarpa’s script (drawing from John Pearson’s book) then flashes back to 1964 to show how Gail helped her husband, John Paul Getty II (English actor Andrew Buchan from TV’s Broadchurch), reconcile with his long-estranged Dad, which leads to the oil magnate inviting the family to live and work in Rome.
The older Getty took a particular shine to eldest grandson Paul (at this point played by Charlie Shotwell), and Plummer is allowed the chance to paint a complex portrait of a man ruined by wealth and quietly full of vengeance, self-righteousness and hypocrisy, as well as an egomaniacal delusion or two, like when he states that he’s the reincarnation of Emperor Hadrian.
Gail and the elder Getty are well and truly alienated now, and when he shockingly refuses to pay a ransom (rationalising that it would only lead to the kidnapping of more and more of his relatives), Gail joins forces with some fairly hopeless Italian detectives and one of Getty’s key oil negotiators, Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg). There are very few leads and too much chaos, and things become even more complicated and dangerous as the young Paul is passed from one group of captors (bad) to another (very bad), and months pass.
Naturally the whole Plummer/Spacey thing has overshadowed the rest of the cast here, so it should be pointed out that Wahlberg and Duris are fine, Buchan impresses as the messed-up JPG II and the young Plummer is convincingly desperate and terrified for much of the running time.
However, it’s the top-billed Williams that contributes the best performance here, in the end, as the long-suffering but undaunted Gail, who’s unafraid, time after time, to go up against her monstrous former father-in-law. With a slightly altered accent (featuring an almost Katharine Hepburn lilt), powerful but understated determination and the very minimum of hand-wringing weepiness, she’s really the key reason to catch Ridley’s saga.
Rated MA. All the Money in the World is in cinemas now.