Imagine a man so miserly that he has all the money in the world, but scoffs at the idea of donating any of it to charity. He spends his great wealth on pretty things to decorate his sprawling mansions, plots a modern palace, and relishes every penny preserved by ruthless haggling. He cares more for money than people. So, when his beloved grandson is kidnapped, he proudly proclaims to the world he won’t pay a single cent of the $17 million ransom. That would be a man cartoonish in his avarice. Yet that is the story of oil tycoon John Paul Getty as told in Ridley Scott’s All The Money In The World.
Based on John Pearson’s book Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty, this docudrama delves into the scandalous and outlandish time in 1973 when 16-year-old John Paul Getty III (called Paul by his family) was kidnapped off the streets of Rome. As one of the heirs to a seemingly boundless fortune, Paul seemed a perfect target for scoring a bountiful ransom. But the kidnappers underestimated Grandpa Getty, who holds the family purse strings. Instead of paying up, he sends in his top negotiator, former special agent Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg), to investigate. Meanwhile, Paul’s mother Abigail (Michelle Williams) is desperate to get her boy back. But now divorced from Getty’s son, she’s nowhere near as wealthy as the world assumes. So as she privately begs her ex-father-in-law for aid, she’s publicly scorned as a terrible mother in newspapers around the world.
A few weeks ahead of release, All The Money In The World scored unusual awards season buzz when Scott abruptly recast the role of Getty. In the wake of the Kevin Spacey scandal, Scott plucked Christopher Plummer for last hour reshoots. Sadly, this behind-the-scenes story is the most interesting thing about this film.
Brandishing a kidnapping plot, a doe-eyed young heir, scowling secret agent, lion-hearted mother, and viciously greedy billionaire, you’d think this movie would be exciting. Yet Scott bleeds all the could-be suspense by crudely dividing it into three sections. One follows young Paul through his harrowing ordeal, in which he is mostly helpless. So you’re just watching a pretty, androgynous ’70s boy be tortured. The second follows his mother, who works with Italian police, as she pressures Getty as best she can, and repeatedly scuffles with the infuriatingly unflappable Chase. Meaning mostly, we watch her metaphorically run into walls. Lastly, we follow Getty, who muses over how he was clearly an emperor in a past life, and fawns over black market gotten masterpieces, occasionally ignoring updates on his grandson’s deteriorating situation. All this makes for a grim affair, where little actually happens, including anything resembling nuance.
If I didn’t know this was based on real events, I’d assume All The Money In The World is an ill-conceived gritty reboot of A Christmas Carol. Forget the ghosts, let’s have Scrooge visited by his harried former daughter-in-law and an increasingly concerned Yes Man, who badger him about the true value of family! The characters are two-dimensional stand-ins for ideas of innocence, loyalty, reason, and greed. Scott doesn’t bother to ground them in reality, instead leaning into the unsatisfying explanation that the Gettys aren’t like other people. (“We look like you. But we’re not like you.”) And no two actors seem to be on the same page when it comes to tone.
Ever the sad wife, Williams is eternally quivering on the brink of emotional breakdown. And her patrician accent is both distractingly trill and astonishingly inaccurate. Romain Duris, as a kidnapper who calls himself Cinquanta, oozes a skeezy charm, but moves from grungy to campy as things go sideways. As Paul, willowy Charlie Plummer trembles like a flower in a rain storm, being appropriately pitiable. But he can bring no depth to a character who spends 99 percent of his screen time scared shitless. Meanwhile, Christopher Plummer scowls and brags and blusters. And it’s serviceable. But frankly, I preferred his Scrooge in The Man Who Invented Christmas, where his theatricality was better suited. Then there’s Mark Wahlberg.
If you asked me which actor was dropped into the film after it’d had wrapped and left with only days to craft a performance, I’d have guessed Wahlberg. He is woefully, almost laughably miscast as the steely, whip-smart, white-collar Chase. The actor who’s made a career out of playing lunkheads, or blue-collar heroes can’t shake his gruff swagger. Wahlberg is not convincing as sleek or steely. In conservative business suits, he looks as comfortable as a bear in a bra. It’s impossible to believe either Getty or even a reluctant Abigail would trust Chase with such a delicate and important task as rescuing Paul.
At two hours and twelve minutes, All the Money In The World tests the patience of its audience with stilted storytelling, a jumble of confusing performances, a striking lack of suspense, and inexplicable indulgences, including poetic voiceover, random black-and-white scenes, and some overt twisting of facts to tack on a clunky comeuppance for the great and terrible Getty. Simply put, All the Money In The World is an absolute and mystifying fumble from all involved.