There’s a telling scene in director Ridley Scott’s All The Money In The World where Jean Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer) tells his employee, Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg) about his love for things. Carefully crafted objects and artworks he not only invests in, but marvels at the distinction of their individual perfection. Something, he’s careful to add, he’s unable to find in other people.
Overhearing the chatter around the theater after the screening, it seemed to be getting an overwhelming amount of praise, particularly for the Plummer’s performance as the real-life billionaire mogul — who, in all fairness, is deserved. As is praise for the rest of the cast, particularly Michelle Williams, who plays Getty’s daughter-in-law, Gail.
The same praise is rightfully given to Scott, who wields his cinematic vision with the kind of expert precision he’s known for. Still, while elements of the real-life story where altered for dramatic effect (a given in any movie prefaced with the words ‘Based On A True Story’), there’s something definitively lacking in this film. The lack of a compassionate main character, for one. Or any main character, really. In its place, we get several supporting characters all running around in a series of loosely connected scenes, particularly in the first act, before hinging its plot around the kidnapping of Getty’s grandson, John Paul III (Charlie Plummer).
Prior to this, we learn about the elder Getty’s acquisition of oil in the Middle East, his invention of the oil tanker, and his emotional disconnect from his son, John Paul, Jr (Andrew Buchan). It’s subtlety implied that he copes with that vacuum through drinking, that is before said subtlety is hastily thrown out the window near the end of the first act. Then it’s more-or-less abandoned altogether.
Once the film is done unnecessarily vignetting its way through key moments in Getty’s life that lead to the acquisition of his fortune, while also hinting at his notorious frugality, it seems that it’s too late to begin crafting a truly sympathetic lead character. John Paul III starts to serve as the film’s narrator, at least at first, before that too is abandoned altogether. After being abducted in the opening moments (while trying to negotiate down a prostitute’s asking price), it’s surprisingly difficult to really emotionally invest yourself in his predicament — much less his rescue.
Williams’ Gail assumes that role by default as the mother caught between negotiating between two equally ruthless parties: the kidnappers and her father-in-law, and while both see the ransom as something to be negotiated, only the latter sees an opportunity to make it tax deductible as well. Still, for all the gusto she gives to her character, she’s lamentably short the kind of screen time required to weight the film down with the gravitas she deserves.
Likewise, Plummer’s Getty is far too unlikable, a caricature that’s somewhere between Ebenezer Scrooge and C. Montgomery Burns, and Wahlberg’s Chase ultimately serves little purpose to the overall story, save for one key scene where he delivers the film’s titular line. (I’m a sucker for titular lines, what can I say?)
What results is a well-crafted, well-acted piece of cinema that seems to lack anything to make it truly compelling. Packed with top-tier actors delivering top-tier performances from a top-tier director, it feels more like pre-packaged prestige. A carefully curated film offered up to cinema’s own inner-circle and self-ascribed film snobs just in time for awards season. (Plummer, who was brought in for hasty reshoots after news broke of Kevin Spacey’s sexual assault allegations, is already up for a Golden Globe award).
Ultimately, the film is a reflection of Getty’s own collection of perfectly-crafted objects. It’s the kind of work that he himself might have invested in, free of the flaws and imperfections that make something feel uniquely human.
All the Money in the World opens everywhere on Christmas Day.