All the Money in the World: Don’t Spend Your Time, by David Bax
Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World is a thriller that doesn’t thrill. It’s a kidnap movie with no pulse. It resists, even, the temptation to become an offbeat buddy cop story about an estranged divorcee and her former father-in-law’s hired muscle. In Scott’s apparent aim to keep this true life tale from being a genre picture, he’s managed to sap it of any distinction or life at all.
John Paul Getty III was the grandson of J. Paul Getty, the ludicrously wealthy oil tycoon. But by the time the young man was kidnapped in Rome at age sixteen and held for ransom, his mother, Gail, had left his father, John Paul Getty, Jr., and any claim to the Getty fortune. The old man refused to pay a cent in ransom and, in the movie, he dispatches a former CIA spy now on his payroll, Fletcher Chase, to track the boy down. All the Money cuts between the efforts of Gail (Michelle Williams) and Chase (Mark Wahlberg) and the plight of young Paul (Charlie Plummer), with occasional drop-ins to see how all of this is effecting or not effecting Getty (Christopher Plummer).
Usually, even in bad movies (or downright terrible ones like last year’s Patriots Day), Wahlberg brings a natural charisma and energy to the screen. Here, though, the movie itself is hostage to its own screenplay, an overly busy piece of work in which, paradoxically, nothing seems to happen for pages at a time, so what can Wahlberg do? Even with his character’s confidence and experience, he has no authority. Like everyone else in the movie, events just plod on around him with no regard for the human characters. Williams is similarly stranded. All the Money draws attention to the fact that Gail never cries during this whole awful ordeal but we’re allowed no insight as to why. Probably, she found the movie as void of emotion as I did. Plummer (the older one; they’re not related) gives the best performance here but even he is helpless against the thudding idiocy of a scene where Getty buys a very expensive painting of a young child while his own grandson remains in the custody of the kidnappers.
Instead of character development, we are treated to endless ruminations about money and how “no one is above” it. Scott and screenwriter David Scarpa (adapting John Pearson’s book) give us a vision of the world as a place where money is the only mover, where currency is the current and things tend to go better for those who swim with the stream and don’t make futile attempts to build dams out of minor things like family or law or compassion. And then, of course, the movie ends up doing just that with the lightweight uplift of its ending.
Maybe All the Money would be more effective if it didn’t trudge forward so sluggishly. The already low-seeming stakes are dropped even further by the movie’s glacial pace. A cliffhanger in which we fear Paul may have been killed takes so long to resolve itself that we’ve forgotten to care. And when we finally do get to a shootout at roughly the midpoint—finally, some action!—Scott shoots half of it in slow motion. It’s like the movie is supposed to be somewhere but keeps hitting the snooze button.
With that gunfight sequence (and one other of note), the film is not technically a bloodless affair. But it feels like one. Maybe that’s part of the point, that money is thicker than blood and that, for a man like Getty, it’s only fitting that such a situation be transacted drily, like a business negotiation. But for those of us who don’t have all the money in the world, nor all the time, there’s nothing exciting about watching Williams wait for news of her son’s death or survival like she’s waiting in line at the bank.