You can’t make this stuff up (then). In 1973, J. Paul Getty, the richest man in the world, wouldn’t pay the ransom when his 16-year-old grandson was kidnapped. And this was his favorite grandchild.
You can’t make this stuff up (now). After Ridley Scott had finished making “All the Money in the World,” his feature film about the kidnapping, allegations of sexual harassment by Kevin Spacey became public. Spacey, as Getty, had 22 scenes in the movie. That was too many to cut. So would “All the Money” stay the same? Its release be postponed? Shelved altogether? The decision was to reshoot all of Spacey’s scenes, with Christopher Plummer now playing Getty, and its release moved back only a few days.
Which means that going to “All the Money in the World” offers two viewing experiences for the price of one: the movie itself and the search for seams showing in Plummer’s scenes.
As regards seams: nope, none whatsoever, though you might find yourself wondering how Spacey acted a given scene. Plummer, who’s fine, has a bit of foxy-grandpa charm that’s not exactly in the Spacey toolkit.
As for the movie itself: Remember who directed it. Ridley Scott is nothing if not a pro. “All the Money” is smoothly assured. You can all but feel the pleasure Scott takes in the opening, a sepia-toned tracking shot along a Roman street. He’s like a veteran juggler, cutting back and forth among Rome, where the kidnapping occurs; outside London, where Getty lives; and the Calabrian countryside, where the kidnappers are hiding out. There’s also the occasional flashback to San Francisco, Getty Oil’s headquarters, and Saudi Arabia, where the oil came from.
Yet all that skill serves to highlight the movie’s fundamental leadenness — and over-reach. A better title might have been “All the Movies in the World.” We get a thriller, of sorts, and a crime movie, of sorts (Romain Duris, as a kidnapper, gives the most appealing performance). It’s also a morality tale crossed with family melodrama.
That last one may be the movie’s most interesting strand. Michelle Williams, as the victim’s mother, Gail Harris, deserves her top billing. Her clashes with Plummer are powerful, in part because she’s so justifiably bewildered. She speaks in a clenched, patrician voice that sounds like Grace Kelly; and an unflattering haircut can make her look at times like Diane Lane. Sadder and wiser, she’s no longer the Michelle Williams we’ve come to expect, the melancholy ingenue.
Charlie Plummer (no relation to Christopher) plays her son, J. Paul Getty III. Yes, even with that name Getty I doesn’t want to pay to rescue Getty III. Plummer the younger has a look of corrupt innocence that’s very ’70s. His rich-kid blankness is almost unnervingly right.
What billionaire wouldn’t pay $17 million to get that kid back? In fairness, Grampa Getty has a not-ridiculous reason for his stinginess: “I have 14 grandchildren. If I paid this ransom, I’d have 14 kidnapped grandchildren.” Of course he also tells his chief fixer, “I want you to bring him back as quickly and inexpensively as possible.” One guess as to which word in that sentence matters most.
Mark Wahlberg plays the fixer, a former CIA agent who knows how to do whatever it is that needs doing. He’s a weight-workout version of George Clooney in “Michael Clayton.” Wahlberg does all right. Suave he’s not, but that makes sense. Why would Getty pay for suave when all he cares about are results? At one point, Williams wonders if Wahlberg’s armed. “Guns are for people who don’t have money,” he tells her. Ransoms are just the opposite. Except this time.
ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD
Directed by Ridley Scott. Written by David Scarpa, based on John Pearson’s book. Starring Michelle Williams, Christopher Plummer, Mark Wahlberg, Charlie Plummer, Romain Duris. At Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs. 132 minutes. R (language, some violence, disturbing images, brief drug content).Mark Feeney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.