The Lifestyles of the Rich and Ruthless in All the Money in the World

MoneyEveryone, and everything, has a price according to oil tycoon, J. Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer). But the man once worth an estimated $2 billion ($9 billion now thanks to inflation) was a Scrooge. When Getty is given a price for the safe return of one of his abducted grandchildren he counters with a big fat zero. It’s surprising ‘Getty’ hasn’t replaced ‘Scrooge’ to define people who are stingy with money. Maybe it will after All the Money in the World. The latest film from Ridley Scott is a portrait of one man’s greed but it can never push past constantly questioning the allure of wealth while going through the beats of the true tale.

In 1973, J. P. “Paul’ Getty III (Charlie Plummer) is abducted in Rome. The abductors demand $17 million for the return of the teenager. Paul’s mother, Gail Harris (Michelle Williams), can’t afford the ransom because she rejected alimony in return for custody of her children while divorcing John Paul Getty Jr. (Andrew Buchan). Getty Sr. refuses to pay the ransom when Harris asks for cash, and instead, she gets assigned a Getty oil negotiator and former CIA agent, Fletcher Chase (Mark Warhlberg), to sort out this champagne abduction case on a beer budget.

Scott is such a proficient filmmaker that it’s hard not to be seduced by All the Money in the World. The opening scene features Paul Getty walking the streets of Rome and it seamlessly transitions from black and white to colour as if a distant memory is being recalled. The work of Scott’s current go-to cinematographer, Dariusz Wolski (Prometheus, The Counselor, The Martian, Alien: Covenant) is fantastic. The Getty mansion is shot like it’s a mausoleum. The masterpieces that sit on the walls are barely visible due to the low light. Plummer expertly plays Getty with a grotesque pride for his wealth and status.

Scott and Wolski downplay the luxury of Getty’s life to highlight the drudgery of his greed. There’s no romanisation of Getty whatsoever, which emphasises the dark heart of wealthy elites who horde their fortunes. It’s a blunt but necessary depiction when many historical figures of Getty’s status get eccentric characterisations in film for the sake of narrowing down their ‘greatness’ to be more accessible to the demands of the plot.

As the rich get richer in 2018, All the Money in the World feels like it’s aspiring to be a cautionary allegory about what motivates the people and corporations we give more power to each day. And the answer is simple: money. But Scott can never push past offering a lightweight thesis about the allure of wealth. Each scene is like a mini lecture before reverting to a straightforward retelling the true story, based on the book Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty by John Pearson.

Considering Scott’s stature as a filmmaker, it’s agonising waiting for All the Money in the World to kick in, but it never does. Scott’s execution is reminiscent of rescue and negotiation aspects Argo, but it’s handled like banker filing paperwork for mortgage applications. The film has a filthy eye for capitalists but it’s more about the art of making a deal. You get the same grasp on the economics of greed by watching an episode of Deal or No Deal.

Whenever Scott has a new film coming out the trailers are cut to put his biggest hits in the biggest, boldest text: Gladiator, Alien, Blade Runner. Sadly, All the Money in the World won’t make the cut in the future but Body of Lies, G. I Jane and A Good Year now have company.

Cameron Williams

The Popcorn Junkie