The role of J. Paul Getty, as portrayed in Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World, is meant to be larger than life, larger than the film itself. The man should anchor our interest in the production, giving its quasi-nonfictional account of John Paul Getty III’s 1973 kidnapping in Rome its raison d’être. Christopher Plummer offers a respectably competent performance in the part, but you will still wonder what the film was like before Kevin Spacey was removed from it. As released, All the Money in the World is by and large a conspicuously manufactured thriller that moves between manipulative psych-outs. Officials find a burned body that might be that of Getty’s teenage grandson—but it’s not! Investigators figure out where Paul is being held—but he’s not there anymore! And so on for more than two hours.
Plummer’s Getty is warm to a point but more concerned with his fortune, power, and dynasty than with the people in his midst; when first informed of Paul’s abduction, he dismisses the messenger, because the markets are open, and he has ticker tapes to examine. He wanders Roman ruins and declares himself Hadrian reincarnated. This may be an accurate depiction of the real-life Getty, but it comes across in the film as a caricature of chilly wealth.
Daniel Pemberton’s score evokes The Ring cycle of operas whenever Plummer is on screen, his very own Wagnerian musical leitmotif, suggesting a god approaching twilight. Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski echoes this portentousness, shooting Plummer’s scenes with sterile opulence, emphasizing the cold-sheen loneliness of super-affluence; almost every shot is dimly lighted or washed-out, even when a scene is set midday and outdoors. Unfortunately, the tone carries over to the rest of the film, whose slick screenplay offers little insight into its characters. The film feels more like a spiritless photo essay of the lifestyles of the one percent, a zoological view of a unique species of humanoid—the transcendently rich and their adjacents.
Mark Wahlberg, indicating varying levels of seriousness by whether his eyeglasses are on or off, plays Chase, an ex spy who works for Getty by negotiating oil deals with Saudi royals and other Mideast kahunas, brought on to find and retrieve Paul without spending hardly any of Getty’s money. As Gail, Paul’s mother and Chase’s de facto partner, Michelle Williams is convincingly furious and terrified as her character negotiates with kidnappers as well as her former father-in-law, who refuses to give up a cent to free his own flesh and blood. She could have dominated a fascinating film of her own, but instead she’s relegated to sharing just a third of it, and she’s overshadowed to the point of practically disappearing.
Part of that shadow is cast by Paul (Charlie Plummer, no relation to Christopher) and his relationship with the lead kidnapper, Cinquanta (Romain Duris), who at one point tells him with an indeterminate accent that he doesn’t understand Americans, because apparently they’re not all consumed by their families as Europeans are. Cinquanta and his band of criminals, lolling in the Italian countryside, form an interesting parallel to Getty; they’re a bunch of small-time hustlers, like him looking to make a buck anyway they can, even if it’s investing in a kidnapping. In the film’s world, no one seems to come by money honestly, but at least the crooks have each other.
All the Money in the World ends with several scenes that reject Getty’s money-first, family-last worldview. Chase gives Getty a finger-wagging speech about how money isn’t everything; Paul is returned alive, after a lengthy foot chase (which, incidentally, didn’t happen in real life) through narrow, medieval Italian streets; and Gail inherits Getty’s money and art, which she can give away and found museums with. But all the happy endings in the world wouldn’t make this tasteless exercise any more palatable.