Ridley Scott’s latest has its work cut out convincing audiences to look beyond its Kevin Spacey-shaped backstory. But when did Scott ever shirk a challenge? In a career of many post-slump comebacks, Scott rebounds from Alien Covenant and actor crises with a terse, tense, true-life period kidnap thriller loaded up on ideas: most of which, as in his best work, resonate without distracting from its story or stars.
On which note, enter Christopher Plummer to replace the disgraced Spacey. Summoning judicious hints of humanity without softening his character, Plummer banks a niftily nuanced turn on any terms as bristly billionaire J Paul Getty. And on the terms of his nine-day shoot, cough up the superlatives – Plummer owns the role spectacularly.
Happily, Scott’s film earns him. Drawing on John Pearson’s book Painfully Rich, David Scarpa’s (2008’s The Day the Earth Stood Still) fluent script spotlights the kidnapping of Getty’s 16-year-old grandson Paul III (Charlie Plummer) in Italy, 1973. When tight-purse gramps refuses to pay the $17m ransom, Paul’s mum Gail (Michelle Williams) and ex-CIA operative Fletcher Chace (Mark Wahlberg) are left to liaise with abductor Cinquanta (Romain Duris) or “find the boy”.
Scott makes focused work of a multi-stranded story, breezing through Getty’s early years while ferrying us from the Fellini-ish black-and-white lustre of a Rome-set opening to Saudi Arabia, Southern Italy, San Francisco and Brit toff-piles. DoP Dariusz Wolski’s images smooth the way, contrasting Getty’s world, Gail’s home-life bustle, pap-packed streets and Paul’s rough-hewn confinement without labouring the style.
The character line-up is equally well-navigated by the leads, only Wahlberg looking awkward in the period setting. Tapping Ripley-esque reserves of trauma-lashed tenacity, Williams brings fuss-free conviction to a woman caught between villains: the kidnappers and Getty, whose ideas about family land like ominous Mafia wisdoms. Meanwhile, Duris and Charlie mount delicate balancing acts between Stockholm syndrome and something warmer.
Even before a view of the Colosseum recalls Gladiator and an amputation echoes Alien’s ouch factor, there’s a sure-handed balance of subtexts and story that invokes prime-form Scott. While a surgical atrocity amplifies the story stakes, so does the idea that a hunger for wealth gorges on itself, leaving the rich so self-consumed they might as well be “from another planet”.
These ideas reverberate without reducing tension, which Scott stokes terrifically for a multi-viewpoint race against mounting odds to rescue Paul. Though some climactic set-pieces trade facts for grandeur, All the Money… remains indisputably impressive as its own rescue operation against sizeable odds.
If you knew nothing of its astounding #metoo-era intervention, you wouldn’t notice: you’d just have a lean, intelligent, layered thriller from an on-form Scott and a magnetic lead. And that’s surely worth the asking price.