Ridley Scott takes some time off from the Alien prequels to direct an excellent thriller. All the Money in the World details the true story of the kidnapping of John Paul Getty III, the grandson of the industrialist and apparent “wealthiest man who has ever lived” John Paul Getty (the first). The elder Getty then refuses to pay his grandsons ransom, forcing the boy’s mother Gail Harris (Michelle Williams) to take on the hostage takers herself.
As you’d expect from a Ridley Scott movie, it looks beautiful. Stunning production design and cinematography from Scott regular Dariusz Wolski bring 1970s Rome to stunning life. Particularly striking is a visit by the elder and younger John Paul Gettys to Trajan’s Forum in the snow. Action set pieces play out with a similar stylistic smoothness, especially as hundreds of reporters swarm Gail Harris everywhere she goes, rolling out of the way of cars and bodyguards.
The controversy around Kevin Spacey’s post-last minute recasting has more or less dominated discussions around the project. This is a particular shame as it really is Michelle Williams’ film. As the heartbroken mother, determined to do whatever it takes to get her son back, Williams is compelling and very earnest. Romain Duris is also brilliant as one of John Getty III’s kidnappers who develops a bond with the boy. His relationship with the boy offers some of the more upsettingly dark moments in the film.
The character of John Paul Getty Sr. (originally played by Kevin Spacey , latterly by Christopher Plummer) is certainly a strange one. It’s easy to imagine Spacey playing the role with moustache twirling delight. Plummer, I feel, is able to bring a little more humanity to the role. However, at times he reaches Scrooge McDuck levels of miserly behaviour making me wonder how seriously I was meant to be taking all of this. When he is completely unable to comprehend the notion of human attachment I coudln’t help but think of John Lithgow in Santa Clause the Movie. The film’s indulgences in black comedy clash with the escalating horror of the kidnapping.
Occasionally the film reminded me of the weaknesses that have plagued Ridley Scott’s work since Gladiator. There’s a lack of focus resulting in characters and plot threads remaining absent from the screen for long stretches. Consequently certain key relationships were not developed, especially that between Gail Harris and the man tasked with assisting her, Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg).
As Ridley Scott continues to add unnecessary and misguided addendums to the Alien mythos, movies like All the Money in the World demonstrate that his skills are better suited elsewhere. Scott has a unique ability to invigorate familiar thriller story beats with stunning visuals. He also has a frustrating habit of overcomplicating simple narratives and failing to identify the core strengths of his projects. All the Money in the World is definitely among the more focused and effective of his 21st Century efforts.
All the Money in the World is a bit of a bumpy ride but it still delivers the thrills and style you would expect from Scott adapting this incredible story. Its Money-can’t-buy-you-happiness moral might not be terribly original, but with a story as crazy as this one, it’s definitely the right take away.
4 / 5