When watching All the Money in the World, it is incredible to think that 1) six weeks ago Christopher Plummer was not in this movie, and 2) anyone other than Christopher Plummer was ever cast as J. Paul Getty. Plummer is terrific as oil tycoon and grandfather from hell J. Paul Getty, and his performance, so natural and amazingly lived-in given such little preparation, is a reminder that you don’t have to go to actors in old age makeup in order to cast elderly roles. There are amazing senior actors still out here getting sh*t done. The main reason to see All the Money in the World is to marvel at Christopher Plummer, both his performance and generally his presence in the movie, which, again, he was not in six weeks ago.
This is the second Ridley Scott movie this year, following Alien: Covenant, and this is a cleaner, stronger narrative than Covenant, but also more conventional and less interesting. Scott is in that realm of filmmakers so accomplished and good at what they do, they don’t really make bad movies, but not unlike Steven Spielberg and The Post, Money feels workmanlike and less emotionally engaged than Scott’s other, messier recent movies. It’s not bad. It’s entertaining! You will forget it immediately.
Money is based on the kidnapping of J. Paul Getty III, in which the eldest Getty decided not to pay his grandson’s ransom of $17 million. In the movie, with Plummer’s twinkle in full effect, when Getty refuses to pay, citing a concern that this will only make targets of his other grandchildren, it seems entirely reasonable. But it is clear from the beginning that Getty is not a kindly grandfather—he’s a cutthroat oil baron who jettisoned his family so he could focus on his “great enterprise”.
The movie sets up Getty versus his former daughter-in-law, Gail (Michelle Williams). The best part of the movie is not the actual kidnapping, it’s the battle of wills that ensues between Getty and Gail, the one person who ever made a deal Getty didn’t understand. It’s a shame Plummer and Williams don’t share the screen more, even if the point is how inaccessible Getty was even to his own family, because those two lift Money above its generic dramatic thriller roots and make it an almost interesting character study of what ambition looks like in the right and wrong circumstances. (Although Williams does a distracting accent that makes her sound like she’s doing a Katherine Hepburn impression. Toss it on the pile along with Katherine Waterston’s Alien haircut as bad decisions from leading ladies to which Ridley Scott pays zero attention.)
What drags Money down is the kidnapping itself. Charlie Plummer (no relation to Christopher) is not super compelling as Getty III, nor is he given much to do except look pouty and/or scared, which hampers emotionally investing in that storyline, and there is so much invented action thrust into the story that it quickly becomes your average spy-type thriller. That part of the movie is not helped by Mark Wahlberg, who is out of place as Fletcher Chase—a patently ridiculous 1970’s name—Getty’s security goon. Chase is the one Getty sends to get his grandson back, by which he means haggle the kidnappers down from $17 million. Despite playing a CIA-type, Chase isn’t a man of action, he “makes deals” for Getty. On one hand, Wahlberg wants to remind us he is a solid dramatic actor who does not need guns or robots to get it done, but on the other hand, he is not the type to play a fixer. Chase should be slick bordering on oily, and Wahlberg only comes with one dramatic mode these days: Earnest. Chase’s slow realization that his boss is a dickbag loses its punch because Wahlberg plays Chase on one level the whole movie.
So Money ends up being uneven, if stitched together by an overqualified director for this straightforward material. The kidnapping is the draw but the real reason to watch this movie is Plummer and Williams. Gail is surrounded by men who underestimate and dismiss her, from her father-in-law to the Italian media which is mad she won’t cry for the cameras, and a movie about a woman overcoming masculine bias has particular power in 2017. But just like The Post, Money is only half about that, and the other half—dealing with macho posturing and power plays—isn’t nearly as interesting and so the movie doesn’t quite connect. Still, All the Money in the World is above-average competent, and perfectly acceptable entertainment. And hey, my dad stayed awake for the entire two-hour-plus runtime, which should qualify it for a special Oscar for most “Dad Approved” movie of the year.