All the Money in the World (4 stars)

All the Money in the World

Ridley Scott's epic gamble pays off as he delivers a thrilling J Paul Getty biopic

When sexual abuse allegations involving actor Kevin Spacey emerged at the end of October, his recently completed project All the Money in the World looked set to be collateral damage. But its director Ridley Scott – a man famed for his self-confidence – had other ideas. Scott's proposal, with less than two months until the film opened, was to recast Spacey's role, reshoot all of his scenes and still get the movie out in the US by Christmas. And, by God, he's done it.

With Christopher Plummer in for Spacey, it's the story of the 1973 kidnapping of the grandson of miserly industrialist J Paul Getty, at the time the richest man in the world. Plummer plays Getty, Charlie Plummer (no relation) the 16-year-old captive Paul, Michelle Williams is Paul's frantic, broke mother Gail. With the ransom initially set at $17 million, Getty is asked by a journalist how much he is willing to pay. 'Nothing,' comes the curt reply. Meanwhile, as the boy languishes in captivity in rural Italy and is sold by the first gang to a more ruthless outfit, his grandfather continues to acquire alarmingly expensive objects.

Excluding a scene set in Saudi Arabia where the use of green screen is glaringly apparent, Christopher Plummer slots into proceedings seamlessly (his efforts and those of Scott and Williams have immediately been rewarded with Golden Globe nominations); it's hard to imagine his understated gravitas being bettered by Spacey. Moreover, Scott's 25th film is orchestrated with aplomb, sumptuously shot with wonderful period detail, and the biopic and thriller elements largely form a coherent and complimentary whole, even if deviations from fact at the film's close are perplexing.

Paul's predicament is a little lacking in screen-time, while Mark Wahlberg's character – Fletcher Chase, an ex CIA man who works for Getty and liaises between the pitiless magnate and the infuriated mother – is so underdeveloped and functional as to appear fictional (he's not). However, in Gail, the film boasts a noble, credible heroine, sporting a clipped, Katharine Hepburn-esque accent. Her ability to stay composed in the face of extreme trauma and provocation contrasts with the greed and degeneracy evident elsewhere, and Williams makes for a fine focus.

As the gap between the super-rich and everyone else becomes an unassailable gulf (the richest 1% now own half the world's wealth, according to a Credit Suisse report published in November), this is a timely, sometimes blood-boiling morality tale, punctuated by the suspense of a traditional kidnap thriller. If it doesn't get to the heart of what drives people to accumulate vast, unusable fortunes, it does show the vacuum of humanity this can leave behind.

General release from Fri 5 Jan.

All The Money In The World

  • 4 stars
  • 2018
  • US
  • 2h 13min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Ridley Scott
  • Cast: Michelle Williams, Christopher Plummer, Mark Wahlberg, Charlie Plummer
  • UK release: 5 January 2018

The story of the kidnapping of the grandson of miserly industrialist J Paul Getty (Plummer). Plummer, who was a last-minute replacement for the now-disgraced Kevin Spacey, brings understated gravitas and Williams is noble and credible as the kidnap victim’s mother Gail. A sometimes blood-boiling morality tale, pulled off…

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