I walked 25 minutes, each way, in a windy and chilly New York City in order to save seven dollars on parking for my screening of “All the Money in the World.” Those seven bucks represent a 50% decrease in what I had originally intended to spend, and had I spent the full amount I would have had only about a five minute walk. I was looking for a deal—a bargain—and seven dollars was the best I could do, so I took the spot even if there was a personal inconvenience for having done so.
This story is relevant to Ridley Scott’s new film because the character of John Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer, although as of early November it was Kevin Spacey) is a frustrating one. Although incredibly rich, the film states he is the first person whose worth was estimated at a billion dollars, Getty is monumentally cheap, like Ebenezer-Scrooge-before-the-ghosts-visit cheap. (How cheap is he?) Getty is so cheap that when his favorite grandson, John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer), is kidnapped and the kidnappers request $17 million for his release, Getty refuses to pay. As the price comes down and the kidnappers show how serious they are, Getty still refuses to pay. He simply will not do it. He is, it seems, looking for the best deal possible, even if there is a personal inconvenience (the potential death of his grandson) for doing so.
The portrayal offered by Plummer is a frustrating one, because we don’t get to delve into Getty’s psyche anywhere near enough. There may be a brief series of thoughts offered about his logic by the end of the movie, but it is never enough to overcome the impression that Getty, largely, is just a miser.
Although I characterize Plummer’s portrayal as frustrating, the fault there does not lie with the actor. Instead, it is simple part of Scott’s direction and David Scarpa’s script (based on the book by John Pearson). The problem isn’t the way that Plummer shows us Getty, but rather what he is given the opportunity to show.
There are problems with “All the Money in the World,” and they have little to do with the extensive reshoots required to remove Kevin Spacey from the film and replace him with Plummer. It is, in fact, difficult (if not impossible) to tell that so much work was done at such a late date.
The story here is, as indicated, the story of the kidnapping. It is the tale of what happens to John Paul Getty III, who goes by Paul, during his ordeal and what his mother, Gail Harris (Michelle Williams), does to get her son back with the help of Fletcher Chace (Mark Wahlberg). Chace, a former CIA operative, is an employee of Getty’s and is assigned by the billionaire to find out what is happening with Paul.
It is a drawn out, lethargic affair, with multiple scenes of Harris trying to get the money or being hounded by the press, Chace trying to talk the kidnappers’ ransom demands down, and Getty refusing to pay a dime. There are repeated scenes of Paul being held by his kidnappers—including Cinquanta (Romain Duris), who winds up being friendly with Paul—and contemplating escape. More than once in the film, Chace discusses the difficulties of negotiating in general, of getting past stalemates, of demands having to move, and this is echoed in the narrative circles of the story itself.
When things do finally move, they don’t always move in ways that are easily understood. In one moment towards the end of the film, Paul acts in utterly perplexing fashion and the kidnappers do the same. After such a long spell of nothing, the audience is given all too much time to wonder why things would unfold in the way that they do.
Equally perplexing is the structure of the film at the start. In order to deal with some of the backstory of multiple generations of the Getty family, Scott jumps around in time, showing little bits and pieces of how they all got to where they are in the early 1970s for Paul’s kidnapping. The multiple jumps are awkward, constantly shifting the viewer around, sometimes giving very little (if any) important information, and then they stop. As soon as the exposition is out of the way, Scott tells the rest of the story straight through, which only makes the earlier shifts in time period more confusing.
On a technical level, the film looks beautiful. From Getty’s home to the look at Italy to the costumes to the cars and everything else, “All the Money in the World” seems to have spared no expense in getting it right. It is the way in which the tale is told that simply doesn’t work. The characters are too flat, some of their actions too confusing, and it is all just a little too dull.
photo credit: Sony Pictures
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