The first mistake was even casting Kevin Spacey in the first place. In Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World, Spacey would play J. Paul Getty, an oil tycoon who outright refused to pay a ransom when his grandson was kidnapped. We saw an initial trailer of the Spacey version, with the middle aged actor wearing awkward prosthetics to make him look older, and those clips were never entirely convincing. But then the Spacey scandal broke, and Scott replaced him with Christopher Plummer. That Scott was able to complete the reshoots, amounting to a coherent film, is downright astonishing. Still, the miscasting extended well beyond Spacey, and the movie’s misanthropy lacks the wit of Scott’s other recent films.
The details of the abduction are downright perfunctory. John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer, no relation) plays the oil scion as bratty and a little impetuous, so the kidnappers have no problem snatching him into a van. Paul’s mother Gail (Michelle Williams) immediately goes to Rome, where he was living, and tries to reason with the kidnappers. They want $17 million, and she explains she has no money – it all belongs to her ex-father in law. Instead of paying the ransom, Getty has his head of security Fletcher (Mark Wahlberg) track down his grandson. This leads to a series of misunderstandings and near escapes, until Paul is sold from one set of kidnappers to the mob. The mob’s tactics are way more brutal, and the sympathies Paul’s handler Cinquanta (Romain Duris) will only go so far.
In terms of plot, All the Money in the World never quite develops the intrigue and twists of other, better films about kidnappers. Scott and screenwriter and David Scarpa were limited by what actually happened, with all the confusion and dull periods of waiting, waiting, waiting. Instead, the film relies on its personalities, with Getty at the center. The film’s best scenes are like a dark comedy, where Getty is so self-centered and cheap that it’s almost unbelievable. He constantly talks about money, but with the compassion and charity we might expect from Scrooge. All the characters, including Gail and Fletcher, cannot quite believe Getty’s refusal to play ball.
The trouble is that Plummer’s performance, which is unapologetic and deliciously mean, overshadows all the others. Williams captures the right tone as a long-suffering daughter-in-law, albeit with a strange accent. Wahlberg was incredibly miscast: he is too much of a meathead to convincingly play a sharp, intuitive negotiator. Energy simply evaporates whenever Plummer is not there, which is ironic since he is the oldest actor in the film by several decades. There’s also the added curiosity of imagining how the Spacey version might look. Late in the film, there is scene where Plummer loses his mind and blubbers to no one, and Spacey would have sent that material in high camp. Still, the business of saving Paul is practically incidental, since the bigger payoff is waiting for Getty to get his comeuppance. When it does, Wahlberg unfortunately delivers the lines, and he has all the credibility of a mall security guard.
Between this and Alien Covenant, there is an admirable “I don’t give a fuck” streak to Ridley Scott’s work. He pursues stories and films that interest him, nothing more, so we are left to the whims of a director who’s distaste for humanity is only matched by Stanley Kubrick. Few characters in All in the Money in the World have admirable qualities, so the fun is watching how money functions like a poison, or corrupting force. Getty and the kidnappers need it, Paul and his mother have a distaste for it, while Fletcher merely considers it a tool. They’re right and wrong, albeit in different ways, and while Scott amuses himself with his slate of unlikable characters, this time they do not form a plausibly human canvas. If this film has any longevity, it will be as a curiosity because of the reshoots. For his sake, I hope Scott never lets the Spacey version see the light of day.