Even if you have no idea what this film is about, or don’t even recognize its name, you have probably heard about the controversy surrounding it, so I’ll start by addressing that. All the Money in the World is based on the true story behind the kidnapping of J. Paul Getty’s, the richest man in the world and that time ever, grandson John Paul Getty III. Kevin Spacey played the role of the eldest Getty, the film was all but finished and very near release when the news of Kevin Spacey’s scandalous past surfaced. So, director Ridley Scott reshot every film Spacey was initially in with Christopher Plummer recast in the role and re-edited the entire film in nine days in the reports I’d heard. It’s an incredible achievement and had the story not been so widely known there would be no way of knowing from watching the film that major changes had ever been made to what was thought to be the final cut. It was probably a smart decision from a business standpoint, and an ethical one as well, but it can’t have been an easy one to make nor an easy task to pull off, and even after seeing how well it was done I couldn’t help but wonder throughout the entire film what the film would have looked like with Spacey in the role.
All the Money in the World lets us know how J. Paul Getty amassed his oil fortune early on in the film while using the same time to establish the Getty family dynamics. The kidnapping of John Paul Getty III happens very quickly after the necessary exposition and from that point on the film focuses almost entirely on four characters in three storylines. One storyline is that of the kidnapped Getty’s mother Gail Harris (Michelle Williams) and the elder Getty’s chief security officer Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg) working together to find where young Getty has been taken and why. Secondarily, we have the story of what Getty III (Charlie Plummer) and what happens to him under the care of his kidnappers. Finally, we have the story of John Paul Getty himself and his attempts to remain in denial of the entire situation and his refusal to pay any kind of ransom.
We will most likely never know how close to the truth the events captured in All the Money in the World are, but we do know that the broad strokes of the story, at least, are almost entirely accurate. The kidnapping did occur, the divorced single mother and the agent did work together to find the son, Getty did refuse to pay the ransom, and kidnappers did use certain means which are now infamous to let the Getty’s know they were serious. Past that, a lot of it is conjecture on the part of the film’s writer David Scarpa. To its credit, though, it seems like conjecture which is very interested in remaining factual as it never takes an easy route where dramatic effect is concerned and seems very intent on keeping the story grounded in reality. The most over the top elements of the story we know actually did occur, and the relationships between characters which is the part which had to have been filled in the most seem natural and honest.
Michelle Williams gives a fantastic performance here making me wonder why in the hell Hollywood doesn’t use her more often in larger roles. Perhaps it’s her choice and she prefers to work in smaller budget films that let her really sink her teeth into a meaty role, and if that’s the case she gets all the respect in the world from me. If it’s not, start giving this woman more love and attention, Hollywood, she is never anything less than amazing. The other actors can’t match the same level Williams gives us, but they are still all solid. Wahlberg sells us his agent character and the transformation he has to go through, and while Christopher Plummer doesn’t come anywhere close to giving us a performance we know he’s capable of, he does give us one strong enough to allow us to forget the circumstances under which he’s playing the role.
If I were to call out one major problem with All the Money in the World it would be the movie’s pacing. There are far too many scenes which seem to be glamour shots meant to show off all the time and money spent on the grandiose sets in the piece, and while I know I have praised films for not being afraid to do this exact same thing in the past, there is an art form in the cinematography and the editing of a film to make these long lingering scenes work, and it isn’t captured well here. Rather than establishing tone and pace, the camerawork in All the Money in the World seems to be a choice made by Scott more because he personally loved the way a certain set looked instead of making that choice because it would help the dramatic flow of the story. That’s not to say the movie doesn’t have some gorgeous settings and cinematography, it absolutely does and should be commended for both, but the choice of how to incorporate those visuals do as much to hurt as help the story making the viewer wish the director would pick up the pace.
Final verdict: All the Money in the World is yet another true story for 2017, though its focus on a story rather than a character means it isn’t yet another biopic, and it absolutely deserves to be recommended in a year overflowing with good movies based on true stories (and which still isn’t done, as I have yet to see and review Molly’s Game, I, Tonya, nor The Post). While I firmly believe that this film will be remembered more for the circumstances surrounding it than for the content of the film itself, that doesn’t mean it’s not a film worth watching. It manages to toe the line between gripping drama and a commitment to the facts quite well most of the time, and Michelle Williams is always worth watching in anything she does.