When you're in a crappy situation, you call a plumber. After the news broke that alleged sexual harasser Kevin Spacey would no longer star in All the Money in the World, with his scenes to be reshot with Christopher Plummer, it was one of the internet's better observations. Controversy aside, the end result is astonishing. You'd never guess that 88-year-old Plummer only stepped into his role as real-life oil tycoon J. Paul Getty in November. Nor will you be able to imagine anyone else playing the part, including the excised, prosthetic-clad Spacey with his penchant for over-acting.
Trust Ridley Scott, the now-80-year-old director of Alien and Blade Runner, to mastermind such an impressive technical feat. All the Money in the World is his second movie in less than a year, after 2017's Alien: Covenant — and while it mightn't seem like it at first, there's more than a little in common between the two titles, and with Scott's filmography in general. After spending decades contemplating humanity's complicated relationship with mortality — seen not just in his iconic science-fiction work, but also in the likes of Thelma & Louise, Gladiator andThe Martian — Scott has jumped from a film that ponders the notion of creation as the only lasting legacy, to one about the downfall of a man who puts his faith in wealth instead.
Plummer's Getty is more comfortable collecting objects than nurturing relationships, including with his own son (Andrew Buchan) — "there's a purity in beautiful things that I've never been able to find in people," the world's richest billionaire dismissively croaks. Getty Jr only contacts his father when he's broke and struggling to provide for his wife Gail (Michelle Williams) and four children, though it's his eldest boy, Paul (played by Charlie Shotwell as a 7-year-old), that the old man takes a shine to. Fast-forward nine years to 1973, and the now-16-year-old (Charlie Plummer) is abducted by kidnappers looking to get their hands on a slice of the Getty fortune, but the cantankerous patriarch insists that he doesn't have a cent to spare. That leaves the distraught Gail to work with Getty's security advisor, former CIA operative Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg), to secure her son's release.
A word of warning: you'll hear the phrase "all the money in the world" more than once throughout the film. It's as if Scott and his screenwriters, adapting the 1995 book Painfully Rich, just couldn't help themselves. It's an unneeded wink in a movie that slides with thrilling ease into the icy waters of wealth, laying bare the darkness and ruthlessness born of excessive greed in the process. Balancing multiple negotiations, including Gail wrestling with both Getty and Chase, the family liaising with the captors, and young Paul trying to stay alive with the help of one of his abductors (Romain Duris), the movie also serves up the type of brawny, absorbing thriller we don't often see on screens these days. Working with his regular cinematographer Dariusz Wolski, Scott uses grey tones to contrast the haves and the have nots, immersing audiences in the detail and emotion of the scenario at every turn.
Moreover, even when the film stretches its story a little too far amidst multiple twists and changes of allegiance, audiences will find themselves gripped by the work of Plummer and Williams. The pair play polar opposites in an equally effective manner — one a heartless man motivated by self-interest, the real villain of the piece; the other a desperate mother who'd give up anything, including money, for the people she loves. If only Scott had found someone other than Wahlberg to play the third person in their tussle. The actor might as well be fighting giant robots, given how by-the-numbers his performance is. All the money in the world clearly couldn't help with that.