Review: All the Money in the World Is Both Fascinating and Thrilling

Michelle Williams stars as Gail in All the Money in the World. (Claudio Iannone)

Michelle Williams stars as Gail in All the Money in the World. (Claudio Iannone)

When people remember All the Money in the World, it will almost certainly be because of the amazing circumstances around its release, in which two months before the film’s release director Ridley Scott replaced Kevin Spacey, who has the second-largest role in the film behind Michelle Williams, reshot Spacey’s scenes and still had the movie finished on time. The legend behind the film seems certain to overshadow the film itself, which is a shame considering what a solid, entertaining tale All the Money in the World actually is, and probably would have been even had Scott released it with the disgraced star.

Williams stars in the film as Gail Harris, the ex-wife of the son of tycoon J. Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer) and the mother to several of his grandchildren. When her child Paul (Charlie Plummer, no relation to the man best known for playing Captain Von Trapp) is abducted, and the kidnappers demand a 17 million dollar ransom, Gail has to negotiate both with the abductors and with the obstinate Getty, who sends Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg), a former CIA operative who is the head of Getty’s security team, to ensure that the Getty family gets the son back by paying as little money as possible while the teenager suffers in captivity.

Considering that the production of the film has overshadowed the film itself, it must be mentioned just how remarkable a job Scott did replacing Spacey with Plummer. The role of J. Paul Getty is not an insignificant role, and the sheer logistics of redoing perhaps one-quarter to one-third of an expensive Hollywood production must have been daunting. And although without seeing Spacey’s footage it is impossible to truly compare him to Plummer, the simple fact that Spacey is over two decades younger than Getty was during the time of the kidnapping and Plummer is only a few years older makes him a far better fit for the role anyway, as does the imperious, aristocratic persona Plummer so easily projects. J. Paul Getty was not wealthy in the way that a Bill Gates or a Mark Zuckerberg is now; he was rich in the way that recalled royalty. That, too, seems to make Plummer a more natural fit for the role.

All the Money in the World is not primarily about Getty, however, but his former daughter-in-law, and how Gail has to fight for her son on two fronts. She has to both negotiate with the kidnappers who have her son and with the Getty patriarch who can barely hide his lack of interest in any member of his family. When Getty claims that he is not paying the ransom because it would open up all of his grandchildren to kidnapping, it is clear that his concern isn’t for their safety, it is for his fortune. And as such, the film is primarily a vehicle for Williams, who is excellent as Gail and exploits every opportunity that the film grants her. Williams is generally known for her subtlety, but she gets to go bigger than usual in an intensely sympathetic role. Had the drama behind the production not overshadowed her role in it, the real story of All the Money in the World would likely have been about just how good Williams is in it.

Whenever the film focuses on the negotiation between Getty and Gail or how she navigates the particular challenges of dealing with the Getty family, All the Money in the World is both fascinating and thrilling, although the film is not without its faults. Wahlberg does some fine work with Williams, but falters in one critical scene with Plummer, and several attempts to add a bit of Hollywood flair to the storytelling seem a bit preposterous. Even without knowing exactly how the kidnapping negotiations proceeded, there is at least one moment when it is clear that the real events were nothing like they were portrayed in the film.

But these are mostly quibbles concerning a piece of very effective and often thrilling entertainment. The production of All the Money in the World may be the dominant tale about the film right now, but that does a disservice to the film, which would have been a fine work of craftsmanship no matter how Ridley Scott completed it.

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All the Money in the World
Sony Pictures Entertainment
Now in theaters

4 Stars

Films are rated on a scale of 5 stars (must-see), 4 stars (exceptional), 3 stars (solid), 2 stars (average) and 1 star (unworthy).

Jeremy Ross is a Staff Reporter for Living Out Loud - LA, covering entertainment.

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