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Non-Review Review: All the Money in the World

All the Money in the World is an intriguing and uneven anthropological study of wealth.

Ridley Scott’s drama documenting the abduction of Paul Getty treats its subjects as members of a different species. In an introductory voice-over, the character of Paul Getty explains that the truly rich may as well come from “another planet.” They might look the same, but they are fundamentally different from ordinary people. At one point, John Paul Getty recalls an argument on how a publisher tried to change the title of his book from How to be Rich to How to Get Rich. Getty complains, “Getting rich is easy. Any fool can get rich. Being rich, that’s something else entirely.”

A Plum(mer) Role.

This idea simmers through All the Money in the World, the notion that there is something more than just a bank balance that separates the wealthy from the poor. “Money is never just money,” reflects advisor Fletcher Chase, and All the Money in the World suggests as much repeatedly. Throughout the film, journalists and paparazzi stalk the Getty family like wildlife photographers trying to snap a picture of some rare beast in its natural habitat. The Getty’s stand apart, and that sense of otherness is compounded by some measure beyond a balance in any account.

All the Money in the World is fascinating in its exploration of this idea, but it suffers from a lack of focus and clarity. All the Money in the World feels more like a series of vignettes than a single narrative story, a set of compelling sequences that never add up to a fulfilling whole. There is something intangible missing, as if the figures don’t quite add up. Then again, that flaw seems perfectly suited to the characters at the centre of the narrative.

Oil’s well that ends well.

All the Money in the World is perhaps most notable for its production. Director Ridley Scott famously shot the movie with Kevin Spacey. Once production had wrapped, allegations surfaced about Spacey’s sexual conduct. Scott took the opportunity to recast the role of John Paul Getty, recruiting his original choice for the role. The scenes with Christopher Plummer were all shot at relatively short notice after the production had wrapped, and amounted to approximately one quarter of the finished film

This insertion is close to seamless, and a testament to Scott’s skill in both craft and organisation. There are a few sequences where canny viewers will notice the framing and editting designed to obscure the fact that not all actors were present for reshoots of key scenes, but Scott effortlessly integrates Plummer into the finished film. Plummer never feels like an intruder in the finished feature film, instead serving as the spine around which the movie is constructed. It is impressive on almost every level.

Caught in flight.

Scott is a fantastic director from a technical perspective, and his ability to rework All the Money in the World around these production factors are a testament to his ability to organise a shoot. Scott’s projects are always ambitious, and the director tends to produce at least one of these impressive spectacles on an annual basis. Plummer is fantastic in the role. It is impossible to measure Plummer’s performance against an alternative that will never see the light of day, but Plummer’s embodiment of sheer unrepentant greed is the driving force of the film itself.

Of course, there are reasons why Scott was able to so skilfully integrate Plummer into All the Money in the World. As much as Plummer’s performance is a key strength of the film, it also suggests a major weakness. All the Money in the World is a somewhat disjointed film. Scott could recast the key role of John Paul Getty because the family patriarch spends so much time isolated from the other major characters, allowing for Scott and Plummer to film a lot of the actor’s scenes without requiring the rest of the primary cast.

Dogged commitment to his fortune.

All the Money in the World often seems like a collection of short stories meditating upon what it means to be rich and how John Paul Getty has woven that idea into every fibre of his being. The narrative jumps around in time in order to provide a sense of context, leaping from the kidnapping of Paul Getty back to his first encounter with his grandfather and then back to the kidnapping. Fletcher Chase is one of the film’s three central characters, but he is not properly introduced until almost a third of the way through the film.

Even when All the Money in the World is following the central thread of the kidnapping of Paul Getty, it still diverts down tangents and along divergent threads. The film often feels like a condensed miniseries, with individual segments investigating particular avenues of the kidnapping from various perspectives. These individual sequences often work quite well in isolation, but they do not always flow effortlessly into one another. There is a sense that all the Money in the World is somehow less than the sum of its parts.

“No man is poor who has family. Unless he decides to pay the ransom on them.”

Then again, this would seem entirely fitting with the story being told. All the Money in the World plays as an exploration of what it is to be rich, with its characters meditating on the subtle distinctions between various classifications. Gail Harris chides her husband for saying that they are “poor”, instead insisting that they are “broke.” Jean Paul Getty objects to the description of one of his antiques as “priceless”, instead suggesting that it is “invaluable.” Words flow through the air, but are imprecise in nature.

In particular, All the Money in the World suggests that wealth is a concept that exists independent of an monetary figure. The film documents Getty’s notoriously stingy nature, from having a pay-phone installed on his estate to doing his own laundry to avoid paying room service. Getty is a man who can argue with a straight face that he is strapped for cash while serving his guest the finest champagne and watching his value skyrocket during an oil embargo. There is an absurdity to the wealth, a strange paradox that makes them at once intriguing and repulsive.

He’ll Getty what’s coming to him.

All the Money in the World is united by this theme, the idea of money and value. When Chase confronts Getty about his insecurity concerning his wealth, the former spy demands, “What would it take for you to feel secure?” Getty coldly and simply responds, “More.” Over the course of the film, writer David Scarpa repeatedly suggests that value is in the eye of the beholder, as Gail Harris discovers in relation to her father-in-law’s priceless artifacts or through her realisation that so much of the wealthy’s power come from “credit” rather than liquidity.

There are moments when All the Money in the World leans a little too heavy into these themes, when the screenplay becomes a little too didactic. In particularly, the final confrontation between Chase and Getty over the latter’s stern refusal to pay the ransom for his grandson’s safe return borders on downright cheesy, a moment of saccharine sentimentality that does not feel earned in the context of the larger film. It is clumsy and heavy-handed, ill-judged and borderline patronising in how it seeks to interrogate the power and fortune that Getty has amassed.

Pressed for time.

All the Money in the World is a very awkward film, a movie that never quite comes together, never coheres into anything more than the sum of its parts. Nevertheless, those parts remain quite fascinating and compelling in their own right. However, the figures never quite add up.

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