Very early on in Ridley Scott’s All The Money In The World, Mark Wahlberg’s character says, “It’s not just money, it’s what the money represents. It represents power.”
The year is 1973 and John Paul Getty III, heir to a billion-dollar empire, has been abducted in Italy. A ransom of $17 million has been demanded, which clearly shouldn’t be a problem. However, as the film progresses you realise that director Ridley Scott, the same man who has given Hollywood some of its most gripping thrillers, is simply not interested in the unfolding of an abduction drama.
He’s been there, done that and here he wants something more. Based on true events, the movie represents a much deeper philosophy around the life of ‘not just the richest man in the world…but the richest man in the history of the world’.
The character, earlier played by Kevin Spacey, was replaced at the last minute with Christopher Plummer, following multiple allegations of sexual assault. And there couldn’t have been a more serendipitous event for the film, because Plummer is flat-out brilliant. So much so that it’s hard to single out the re-shoots, considering they fit so seamlessly into the film.
And Plummer’s curious energy rubs off on the other actors like Mark Wahlberg and Michelle Williams. After all, there is a difference between a 58-year-old Spacey playing the 83-year-old character under heavy prosthetic makeup. And Plummer, 88, enacting the character. One pretends to be the bitter, old man while the other IS already an old man, we don’t know if he is bitter though.
One noticeable difference from the trailer is when Spacey’s rendition of J.Paul Getty is asked about how much he would be willing to pay as ransom for his abducted grandson, and Spacey snarls ‘nothing’ as if it were a mic-drop at the end of a rant. When Plummer’s J.Paul Getty is asked the same question in the film – he responds with a ‘nothing’ as if it were the most logical answer. And thereby goes on to explain that he has 14 grandchildren, and if he starts by paying out a ransom then he will soon have ’14 kidnapped grandchildren’. Plummer’s character understands this game of power all too well. He is adequately numbed by age, to come across as an asshole.
Ridley Scott’s film uses the kidnapping of the 17-year-old to get into the head of the obscenely rich. For many of them, it’s a lifelong game where if you lose money, you lose points for yourself. And that’s why they hate losing money, even more than they love profiteering. When the oil baron meets his grandson for the first time in the movie, he says – “everything has a right price”, while recounting how he bargained for a rare Egyptian artifact bringing the seller down from $19 to $11.23 over the course of an hour. Plummer’s Getty also recounts to Mark Wahlberg’s character how people keep asking him ‘how to GET rich’, when he’s more intent on telling them ‘how to BE rich’. In the end, life just becomes a series of negotiations and the goal is to keep winning.
One of the film’s biggest strengths is the arc of Michelle Williams’ Gail Getty. Playing the abducted heir’s mother and the estranged daughter-in-law of the Getty family, she starts off as a hapless mom who slowly and steadily discovers the Getty within herself. One of the most thrilling aspects of John Paul Getty III’s kidnapping saga is how it simply isn’t a ‘kidnappers vs victim’s family’ story.
Michelle Williams’ Gail is the thread between the two equally ruthless entities. On one side are her son’s kidnappers growing restless by the day, and on the other is her father-in-law who considers every other human a parasite, trying to drain him off his wealth. Fed up after months of negotiation, the kidnapper at one point accuses the Gettys of being bigger criminals than himself.
All The Money In The World is a sure-footed film by a director well aware of his talents. And if the film wears us down with its constant bargaining or even leaves us a little cold by the end, it still accomplishes so much more. And given the scheme of events which unraveled leading up to the film’s release, it is only a phenomenal how it has turned out (reports claim that the team re-shot 22 scenes with Plummer in only 9 days).
Christopher Plummer’s spectacular performance is Ridley Scott’s Christmas miracle.