Freedom Isn't Cheap In 'All the Money in the World'
By Andrea Thompson
If “All the Money in the World” becomes best known for its replacement of Kevin Spacey with Christopher Plummer, that will be a shame. The film's commitment to its less-is-more approach is quite useful when discussing obscene amounts of money, and how easily it can break rather than make us. Normally the tagline “inspired by true events” is an excuse for hysterics, but “All the Money” surprisingly manages to keep them to a minimum in a story that's practically begging for them.
In 1973, John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer) is a teenage scion of privilege, with a billionaire grandfather (Christopher Plummer, no relation to Charlie) before billionaires became commonplace. On a visit to Italy, he confidently strides through an opening ode to the country's cinema, then is quickly kidnapped. His captors demand a hefty ransom, which his grandfather refuses to pay. If he does, he reasons, then what will become of his other grandchildren?
However, we quickly discover there's far more to it than that. Plummer's Getty will not even meet with Gail (Michelle Williams) to discuss her son, instead sending Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg, in kind of a twist on his seemingly pathological need to play the hero), a very unheroic ex-spy who advises and works for Getty. Chase is at first reluctant to even believe there even was a kidnapping, but he and Gail soon become allies as Gail struggles to keep up with the complex changes in her son's case and the kidnappers become increasingly violent. Some of the twists include John escaping, then returned to his captors by the corrupt Italian police, sold to another captor even more ruthless and money-hungry, and in one of the film's most gruesome scenes, has his ear cut off.
More and more, John's life becomes dependent on his grandfather's willingness to part with his money, and “All the Money in the World” quickly shows just how unlikely this is, even though Getty supposedly seems to have a bond with John and considers him his favorite grandson. But all the money Getty has acquired has rotted his soul to the core. He has lost the ability to truly value and connect with people, instead collecting objects that allow him to feel something besides greed, with none of the complications demands, or warmth of actual human companionship.
Williams especially shines as a woman who might be the only person to learn from her marriage into the Getty family about how to value both blood and money. The movie's quiet moments are sometimes a bit too on-the-nose, as if the film couldn't quite rely on audiences to see the point they're hammering through, or too little follow-up those issues they do bring up, such as how Gail is constantly judged and dissected in her reaction to her son's plight. However, “All the Money in the World” is mostly able to take what in other hands would be a dumb action movie (Wahlberg's presence alone represents a risk) about evil criminals, both rich and poor, and instead makes a quietly realistic crime drama about the various ways people react to wealth and power. The liberties the film takes are inevitable, but it's refreshing to see such a suspenseful, action-heavy climax where guns are a frivolity and the main players have become people worth our attention.
However, “All the Money in the World” also leaves out even darker parts of the events it depicts, such as just how much John's ordeal affected the course of his life. Just as the Getty family may not ever be freed from the shadow of its patriarch, even all the money and love in the world might not be able to save us from the forces they set loose, whether wittingly or unwittingly. If perhaps the film didn't feel quite ready to impart that, it could hardly be blamed for sparing us, especially in a time when people are desperate, not just for money, but for every scrap of hope they can find.