This article previously appeared on Crossfader
Director: Ridley Scott
Imagine being 80 years old and capable of releasing two star-studded, triple-A genre films in one year? It’s a skill only half-a-dozen directors in Hollywood are arguably capable of. Steven Spielberg surely comes to mind, as do some of his fellow compatriots. But Ridley Scott is the only one who seems to have actually done this. Sure, the likes of Woody Allen pump out films like clockwork, but the scale of production is astronomically different when comparing THE MARTIAN to CAFÉ SOCIETY. While Allen was busy getting WONDER WHEEL into cinemas, Scott probably did more during his morning breakfast than most of us do in an entire month.
How he did it, I do not know. Not only did Ridley Scott pull off the impossible by re-assembling an entire cast to replace Kevin Spacey in his latest feature, ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD, but he also managed to do it in the same year that he released ALIEN: COVENANT and produced BLADE RUNNER 2049. However, let’s focus on the former. This really excites me. After all, what a brilliant trick to pull. In the wake of sexual misconduct allegations, Spacey has become rat poison for the movie theatre—Edgar Wright should count his lucky stars that BABY DRIVER released as early as it did.
Replacing Spacey with Christopher Plummer—the actor Scott initially desired for the role of J. Paul Getty—does set somewhat of an important precedent in the film industry. Filmmakers are not reliant on their stars the way they used to be. What’s more, this entire hubbub has people talking about ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD more than they ever would have. That is to say, yes, replacing Spacey with Plummer is a stroke of marketing genius, a decision that had viewers flocking to the movie theatre out of sheer curiosity. I’d be hesitant to say that ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD would have been on anyone’s radar otherwise.
Also hooray for not having to look at this FX monstrosity for two hours
All of this is to say that I have nothing but the utmost respect for Ridley Scott. Not only was ALIEN: COVENANT one of my favorite releases of 2017, but the man’s dedication to his craft is beyond commendable. What’s more, I have great respect for an artist who acknowledges the power he wields, and uses it to fight for social change in an industry that does not respect its minorities. It’s something many people may start doing because it’s trendy (one could certainly make a case that Spacey’s replacement was done for money, not out of principle), but Scott’s been an activist since the day Sigourney Weaver chucked a Xenomorph out of her escape pod. He just doesn’t have much sympathy for abusers.
However, when push comes to shove, I have no choice but to admit that ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD is Scott at his most workmanlike. It’s certainly a film I enjoyed more than THE MARTIAN, but I’d be hesitant to say that some of this doesn’t feel phoned-in. It’s a compelling kidnapping tale, and an elegantly composed thriller, but it never transcends its genre trappings that are front and center. At its narrative core is the story of a divorced mother (played by Michelle Williams), whose ex-husband is the failed heir to J. Paul Getty’s legacy. Her son, Paolo, finds himself in the arms of Italian mobsters, demanding a 17-million-dollar ransom. By Williams’s side is Mark Wahlberg, who plays a quasi-Getty-hired private investigator, and Christopher Plummer as Getty himself, who broods with an air of smug wisdom.
I will never buy that Marky Mark can speak Italian and Arabic, but okay . . .
It’s a narrative framework that actually suffers from no severe setback, but once these pieces are assembled, ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD begins to reveal its familiarity. At the end of the day, Scott has found the easiest way to tell this specific story. It’s a shame, too, because a few simple narrative re-arrangements would significantly improve the dynamics at play. Had Scott opted to make Wahlberg his protagonist, the film would feature a far more dynamic shift in character. As it stands, Williams transitions from a divorcee who doesn’t really like her former father-in-law to a woman who despises him. It’s not particularly inspiring, although the messages Scott delivers on the way are rather fascinating.
As a piece released in the wake of a Trump-presidency, ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD registers like a wake-up call for the masses; a means of highlighting just how little empathy men of extreme wealth share with the common folk, including their own blood. Perhaps Scott’s most profound statement is that you don’t reason with the top 1% using your emotions. It’s foreboding, but undeniably enlightening. To J. Paul Getty, the kidnapping of his grandson is depicted as a business transaction, drawing parallels between Getty’s obscene art collection to the exploitation of his family. J. Paul Getty’s shadow is a demonic force no descendent can escape, even when Michelle Williams opts out of seeking financial settlements in the wake of her divorce—she demands nothing but full custody. It’s an honest depiction of the cruelty a man of such power wields over those around him. Nothing is worth his time, and certainly not his money. That is, unless it’s tax deductible.