Although it takes place in the 1970s, All the Money in the World has the elements of a trashy contemporary reality show — international scandal, high-profile divorce, and infighting among the rich and famous.
This drama based on a true-life kidnapping involving oil tycoon J. Paul Getty provides a stylish and well-acted yet highly uneven story about wealth and privilege run amok.
The story opens in Rome, where Getty’s teenage grandson (Charlie Plummer) is abducted and held for ransom by a gangsters who are well aware of his family’s fortune. His grandfather (Christopher Plummer) is described as “the richest man in the history of the world,” and loves reminding people of that.
He’s also a notorious miser who can easily afford the payment for his grandson’s safe return but doesn’t see sufficient reason to pay it, much to the chagrin of the boy’s mother (Michelle Williams), who’s become estranged from the family after divorcing Getty’s son (Andrew Buchan).
Getty’s solution is to dispatch one of his advisers (Mark Wahlberg) to negotiate the boy’s return “as quickly and as inexpensively as possible.” But it turns into an urgent high-stakes scenario involving parental love and affluent greed.
The film is perhaps most noteworthy for its last-minute casting change, with Kevin Spacey’s scenes as the Getty patriarch being cut in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations and quickly re-shot with Christopher Plummer.
The switch proves seamless rather than distracting, to the credit of veteran director Ridley Scott (Gladiator) and his team. And although performances shouldn’t regularly be judged by such circumstances, Plummer makes it look effortless despite the obvious challenges while portraying the most intriguing character in the film, a man whose actions or lack thereof are a trigger for everyone around him.
However, the screenplay struggles to allow for emotional investment. At least Williams cuts through the smugness with an empathetic performance that brings depth to a familiar role.
The character dynamics are compelling, as turmoil simmering beneath the surface causes the family to crumble. Yet the second half of the film detours into a standard-issue quest for vigilante justice with one-dimensional villains.
All the Money in the World is best when it focuses less on the kidnapping and more on the circumstances surrounding it. By trying to mix prestige melodrama and gritty thriller, much of the moral complexity becomes watered down, spiraling into narrative bankruptcy.