While watching director Ridley Scott's latest effort, All the Money in the World, one is haunted by the sense that there are at least three potentially great movies lost somewhere in the film. Confoundingly, Scott jumbles together bits and pieces of these would-be contenders, yielding a disjointed vehicle for two excellent performances and several interesting stories, but only scattered titillation. The end product is by no means a disaster, yet nonetheless leaves one distinctly unsatiated. The misfortune of All the Money in the World is not what audiences will see, but what they might have seen.
In 1973, John Paul Getty III, or Paul, was abducted in Rome and held for ransom. This is the primary event chronicled in All the Money in the World. Getty III was the grandson of J. Paul Getty, an American oil magnate who spent the last few decades of his life as the richest person in the world. Thus, his progeny made for enticing targets. The kidnapping itself was a rather drawn-out affair with various grisly details, and that story would have made a great thriller. Frustratingly, we feel a sense of the grave danger that Paul is in, but the film doesn't spend enough time on this narrative thread for it to work effectively. It also doesn't help that Paul, played by Charlie Plummer, seems to possess almost no agency and mostly serves as a plot device.
J. Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer) seems to have been a fascinating person—if not exactly an admirable one—and Plummer's performance is so masterful that the rest of the film begins to feel like a distraction. This is great movie number two that we did not get, and it's the one to which we come closest. In fact, at 132 minutes, it's tempting to speculate how much better a trimmed-down film focusing on Getty might have been. Of note but not noteworthy is a miscast and unimpressive Mark Wahlberg as Getty's henchman, Fletcher Chase. Wahlberg seems rather uncomfortable in this character's skin, and his discomfort is all the more obvious since he shares most of his scenes with a regal Michelle Williams.
Williams is perfect as Gail Harris, Paul's mother, expertly playing her as dignified and humane. It doesn't take long before we begin anticipating her moves, as Williams radiates Harris' essence from the moment we meet her in a household morning scene with a very young Paul, his siblings, and her husband, John Paul Getty Jr. This family's story is director Scott's third blown opportunity for a great movie. As it turns out, Getty Jr. is estranged from his father, but is invited to Rome when he contacts the latter in search of a job. The family's rags-to-riches story involves so many turns that it would likely make a fine standalone film.
All the Money in the World isn't too long, per se; it just feels overlong because it can't make up its mind as to what it wants to be. This problem repeatedly saps any momentum the film builds, and the sudden shifts in tone quickly become frustrating. However, Christopher Plummer and Michelle Williams give performances that, on their own, justify watching this movie. Add to those the harrowing events of Paul's kidnapping, and the result is a worthwhile outing. But when the man who brought the world Alien, Thelma & Louise, American Gangster, and The Martian is given fertile source material and a capable cast, we have a right to expect more than "worthwhile." Let's hope someone will someday make one of the great movies that Ridley Scott left on the cutting-room floor with All the Money in the World.