The two things that distinguish Ridley Scott’s mediocre kidnap thriller “All the Money in the World” (** OUT OF ****) are Christopher Plummer’s impeccable performance as billionaire oil baron J. Paul Getty and “Dark City” lenser Dariusz Wolski’s atmospheric cinematography. Scott and Wolski have done an extraordinary job of recreating Rome in the early 1970s when Calabrian gangsters abducted Getty’s grandson off the streets of the Eternal City. Originally, Oscar-winning actor Kevin Spacey had been cast as the billionaire Getty. After allegations of sexual misconduct were leveled at Spacey, Scott scrapped all Spacey’s scenes as Getty and replaced him with Plummer. He spent $10-million over eight days to reshoot those scenes at the last-minute. Unless a version of “All the Money in the World” ever surfaces with Spacey, nobody can ever say how Spacey’s performance compares with Plummer. Plummer turns Getty into a such a scene-stealing, Scrooge-like miser that he overshadows the monotonous kidnapping narrative. The closest anybody comes to distracting us from Plummer is Michelle Williams. She plays the penniless mother of Getty’s abducted grandson. A bespectacled Mark Wahlberg co-stars as Getty’s number one subordinate, but he saunters through the film without either rumpling his wardrobe or disheveling his hair. Meaning, Wahlberg doesn’t portray a typical action hero who takes names and kicks butt. Clocking in at 132 minutes, “All the Money in the World” qualifies as a sluggish saga with sporadic bursts of excitement, until the kidnappers carve off the grandson’s ear. The $50 million production lumbers from one chatty set-piece to another, and Scott makes one of the kidnappers so sympathetic you wonder why his superiors didn’t suspect his loyalty. “The Day the Earth Stood Still” scenarist David Scarpa adapted John Pearson’s nonfiction book “Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty,” but neither Scott nor he infuse this routine potboiler with any palatable suspense.
“All the Money in the World” opens with 16-year old John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer of “King Jack”) slumming in the streets of Rome where prostitutes ply their trade. These tramps send him packing when he pleads for a teenage discount. Getty has been living the good life in Rome. Everybody knows he is oil mogul J. Paul Getty’s grandson. As he is strolling home, the unsuspecting Getty suddenly finds himself seized by hooligans and shoved into a Volkswagen panel van. They careen off into the countryside and confine him in a stable. Paul’s kidnappers phone his mother, Gail Harris (Michelle Williams of “Shutter Island”), and demand $17 million as ransom. She approaches her former father-in-law for the money. Eventually, J. Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer of “Triple Cross”) appears in public and refuses to accommodate the kidnappers. In real-life, Getty said, “I don’t believe in paying kidnappers. I have 14 other grandchildren and if I pay one penny now, then I’ll have 14 kidnapped grandchildren.” Naturally, the kidnappers cannot believe his refusal. They’re stunned that Gail lacks the loot to buy her son’s freedom, too. One of the kindhearted kidnappers, Cinquanta (Romain Duris of “Russian Dolls”), explains to young Getty that family is everything in Italy. Like his conspirators, Cinquanta cannot believe Getty won’t pay up. Meanwhile, Getty dispatches his chief of security, Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg of “Shooter”), to retrieve his grandson. Indeed, Getty believes Gail and his grandson have cooked up the kidnapping as an elaborate to extort money from him. The frustrated kidnappers sell Getty to ruthless Italian mobsters who have no qualms. They carve off Getty’s right ear and mail it to the authorities. Getty remains oblivious to his grandson’s plight while he admires his multiple mistresses who blast away at clay pigeons in the backyard of his sumptuous British mansion. Gail orders a thousand copies of the Italian newspaper with the front-page story about Getty’s ear and sends them to the senior Getty. At the last minute, Getty experiences a change of heart.
Ridley Scott had the ultimate kidnapping caper, but he spends too much time on Getty’s obstinance and not enough on his grandson’s terrifying ordeal.Not only did the kidnapping really happen, but the billionaire also balked at the ransom.The first two-thirds of “All the Money in the World” depict the seemingly endless rounds of negotiations that stonewalled Getty’s release. Initially, Gettys’ grandson provides a voice-over commentary that establishes the alternate reality that his grandfather thrives in as the world’s wealthiest man, and then Scott abandons this approach for a straightforward chronicle. Gail’s attempts to see the elder Getty, and Chase’s efforts to coordinate with the authorities are yawn inducing. At one point, the young Getty manages to escape from the kidnappers, but a corrupt Italian policeman thwarts him. The filmmakers never explain why the original kidnappers sold him off to the mafia. By this time, Harris and J. Paul Getty have worn the kidnapper’s demands down from $17 to $4 million, the villains’ patience is rapidly eroding.Unfortunately, Scott and Scarpa have diluted the fact-based kidnapping, eliminating some of its most outlandish elements, and relegated the grandson and his kidnappers to obscurity while Gail and her father-in-law haggle over the ransom demands.Charlie Plummer (no relation to Christopher Plummer) makes virtually no impression as his grandson.Ultimately, once the kidnappers inform Gail and Chase where to deliver the ransom, “All the Money in the World” barely generates a modicum of white-knuckled tension.
You’d think the final quarter of “All the Money in the World” would sizzle with spine-tingling anticipation. Instead, Scott does little to heighten the excitement. Once he is released, the young Getty desperately struggles to elude the paranoid hoodlums who want to kill him now that the police are closing in on them. Scott lets the finale unfold without any razzle dazzle heroics, and Getty’s mom and Chase find him moments before the hoodlums do. Ultimately, apart from Christopher Plummer’s sterling performance and its evocative cinematography, “All the Money in the World” dilutes a historic kidnapping into an exercise in sleepwalking.