In line with this lack of emotion, it is then even more pertinent why Scott opts to focus so much on the relationship between Getty and Gail. As son John Jr. spiraled into drugs and hookers, Gail’s move to divorce him is not what bothered Getty. Hoping to negotiate and benefit himself via the divorce proceedings, the rug is pulled out from under him by Gail when she offers no alimony in return for child support and full custody. Begrudgingly accepting, but always believing himself to be “had”, he hopes to get custody of his grandchildren back from Gail via his dealings with Paul’s kidnapping. Harping on how they are Getty’s and part of his bloodline as a means of justifying his attempts to get custody back, it is instead quite clear that there is no emotional tug of the heart pulling him in this direction. Rather, it is his intent to “right a wrong”. He views this a bad deal he got sucked into by being tempted by the lack of alimony, while being bothered by his own belief that he was tricked by Gail with the deal. Bothering his perception of “invincibility”. Getty tries to restore his own self-image as an invincible and shrewd negotiator who can always find a way to win even when the situation seems dire to most, even if it hurts the grandchildren, Gail, and dumps them with his still irresponsible son John Jr. For Getty’s mental health, his pride in his wealth only takes him so far. Instead, it is his perceived invincibility in business that allows him to lead a satisfied existence.
It is in exploring this character that All the Money in the World truly succeeds, showing the depravity he is willing to stoop to as long as it benefits his bottom line. In the role, Christopher Plummer is excellent. The fact he did it in nine days is never noticeable – Scott and editor Claire Simpson’s work also makes the film’s transition into these moments seamless – but his presence is one that towers over the film. He is constantly felt when off the screen, creating this oppressive feeling due to his aloofness and his single-track mind. Knowing he could end all of this with the snap of a finger further adds to this intensity with Plummer perfectly capturing Getty’s bewilderment and unwillingness to even consider paying the ransom without, at least, negotiating the price way down to the point where the ransom would be entirely tax deductible.
As his foil, Michelle Williams is equally excellent. Delivering the emotional fire of the film next to Plummer’s stoic and stubborn resolve, Williams’ frantic, impassioned, and determined turn as Gail is one that many actresses would have turned into an emotional mess of highs-and-lows as they seek their missing son. However, Williams is the picture of strength, matching every ounce of power as Getty but with different goals – family over wealth – and without the war chest of cash behind her to support this pursuit. Fighting tooth-and-nail through every obstacle, Williams’ take on Gail is one that is understated yet emotional and fiery. She is very natural in the role, capturing Gail’s upper class vibe, her demeanor, and yet her absolute willingness to sacrifice everything to have her children with her at every turn. This is a turn that, alongside her more expressive turn in last year’s Manchester by the Sea, shows her great acting range. This role is far more introspective and stoic but just as resonating and powerful as her role in Manchester, with Williams able to communicate the major difference in demeanor between the two women to perfection.
Visually, All the Money in the World is incredibly strong with Scott demonstrating his keen eye for luxury in the home of Getty and the lifestyle the family is able to lead. Through smart period costume design and extravagant production design, All the Money in the World is a film that often does feel as “otherworldly” as the brief narration by Paul Getty suggests. This is a film that is as visually luxurious and gaudy as it needs to be in order to communicate the absurd wealth of the Getty family. The film’s camera work is also quite solid with a faded, 1970s look to the film that makes it feel the era while the lighting matches the aforementioned luxury with much of the film in natural light that serves to accentuate the luxury of the world the Getty’s exist within. Visually, the film’s opening is perhaps the greatest achievement as Scott opens up in black-and-white – creating a very old school feeling from the start – before moving into full color after the credits as the camera follows Paul walking through Rome at night, talking to prostitutes, and then being kidnapped. It is a bit of a gimmick, but it is an attractive gimmick.
Cinematography-wise, Scott seems to rely upon a tight tracking shot on multiple occasions in which the camera follows a character in a tight close-up, backing up with their actions, before swiveling around and revealing where they are moving towards. This is used on Gail as she moves through the home at one point and later with a reporter when they receive a piece of Paul’s ear in the mail. The significance of these may just be to add some visual flair to the film, but the fact it is repeated throughout the film may make it more significant in the long-run. However, what is certain is how Scott relies upon close-up shots and reaction shots throughout the film, whether it be as Getty declares he will pay “nothing”, as Fletcher pleas with him to pay, or as Gail ends the film with a startled and frightened look on her face as she sees a bust standing next to her of the now deceased Getty’s face. The significance of this final shot may hint to Getty’s lingering influence upon the family, even in death, but what is certain is that this shot is one that exemplifies much of the film. It relies upon a shot and then the reaction shot with a close-up of each as the means of communicating this, utilized either for emotional impact or shock value – such as in the ear cutting scene where the film cuts between a shot of Paul’s ear being sliced off and kidnapper Cinquanta’s (Romain Duris) disgusted and saddened look as his new friend suffers so greatly. This style of shot structure is a mainstay of All the Money in the World, serving great impact throughout the film and making it one that is deeply felt at times with a lingering connection to each character’s ordeal through the film.
Where the film falters significantly, however, is in the plot structure. It is a film that never really finds its groove. Instead, it moves between moments of Getty being a horrible human being and refusing to pay the ransom without ever developing any intrigue or interest in the moments in between. It shows a scene of Getty being awful, Scott looks at the audience and asks, “Is that not morally repugnant?”, then moves to some shot of Paul with his kidnapper Cinquanta as he goes to the bathroom, cuts to Gail looking for him with Fletcher and the cops’ assistance, and then cuts back to Getty again after spending too much time in the in-between time before going back into the same cycle. The intermittent moments never find their stride, instead feeling as though All the Money in the World is merely biding time before it can go back to Getty, while the Getty moments are incredibly repetitive and similarly never find their stride. Though the writing of the Getty character and the acting of both Plummer and Williams are excellent, the film in which they exist is anything but excellent. As such, All the Money in the World winds up becoming a film where the plot is hardly the main draw, taking a backseat to every other element in the film and with the film suffering as a result. It is simply never able to make the kidnapping feel overly tense and it never moves the Getty moments beyond pure shock value, making it oddly dull and too timid to truly take chances with its plotting. The only time this does not hold true in the film is the climax as Paul tries to get away from his kidnappers, the cops race to the small Italian village he is running around in, and Fletcher and Gail chase after him as well. It is a visually strong and tense scene that ends the film on a real high-note, but it comes too late to save the film.
None of this inability to find its groove helps All the Money in the World, especially with regards to its running time of 132 minutes. Walking out of this time and into the lobby felt like walking through a daze, and not because it was such an immersive experience that it was impossible to re-adjust. Rather, this is a film that entertains in spite of itself but drags for such long stretches that it proves to be an incredibly weighty and heavy watch. It slow pace and stunted plotting may make this play as an alleged “thinking man’s thriller”, but for far too many audiences, it will be more along the lines of an “overlong slog with great pieces”. Had the film truly found its stride at any point and not constantly repeated itself, this 132 minute runtime would have flown by, but it winds up feeling excessive and overindulgent on the part of Scott. There is simply not enough meat on this film to make it work. It actually feels as though Scott is attempting to make a slow paced Euro thriller at times a la The Conformist or Army of Shadows with a similarly gray and dreary color palette (even the greens and extravagance look washed out in All the Money in the World) and an operatic score, but without enough content working under-the-surface, minimal intrigue, and modern touches that separate it from this influence. This endeavor is often what makes All the Money in the World so admirable – and it makes sense given the London/Rome setting of the film to take it in this direction, with the climactic sequence in a small Italian village under the dark of night with orange streetlights flooding the wet streets being a highlight of this, ramping up the tension considerably as Paul tries to get away – but it would only work if the film had enough content and emotion to fill out the 132 minute, rather than run out of both at various times in the film.
Those aforementioned “modern touches” are often where the film slips up, being far better working as a neo-1960s/1970s Euro thriller with a slow pace, relying on atmosphere, and acting, instead of outright emotion and modern tension, a la Anton Corbijn film The American or Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. The first comes as Cinquanta, the kidnapper, is humanized. Forming a friendship with Paul over the course of his kidnapping, staying with him even when Cinquanta’s original associates sell Paul to a mobster who makes fake handbag, letting him try to escape at one point, and later helping him get away with Fletcher and Gail as they run around a small Italian city. The mere fact he is humanized is not bad, but the way in which Scott uses him as an implausible gateway to Paul being reunited with Gail feels too falsely tense, out-of-character for a kidnapper, and forced to really work. Similarly, there is an earlier shootout scene as the Italian cops raid the location where Paul was originally held. This scene does not really work beyond being a classic “oh he was just there but now is not” moment in a film, while being quite absurd when reflected upon. As the Italians race into this building with heavy arms, full armor, and helmets, Fletcher urges them to not do so in case Paul is caught in the crossfire. This is a great point, but willfully ignorant of the fact that the Italian cops move into this building with Fletcher and Gail trailing right behind them – in fact, they never clear the building yet Gail walks into Paul’s former cell anyways – with neither of them wearing any armor. Were they not concerned about being caught in the crossfire themselves? Why were they even allowed to go, as the cops had earlier told Fletcher to stay out of this and only ever called Gail to identify a body? The scene makes no sense in context and, upon reflection, is even more perplexing. It feels as though Scott realized the film was lacking an explosively tense moment in the middle and tried to force this one in, instead of relying upon the tremendous closing chase scene.
Although the film never quite hits its stride, there is actually more pros than cons to All the Money in the World as it is not just an admirable accomplishment, but also a film loaded with great performances – especially Christopher Plummer and Michelle Williams- and serves as a great character study while featuring lushly extravagant visuals. However, it is undone by its inability to balance the search for Paul with the immoral J. Paul Getty and its inability to find tension beyond its climactic scene at the end. Had the film accomplished either of these goals while tightening the final runtime down from 132 minutes to, possibly, under two hours, All the Money in the World could have become a great modern and decidedly Hollywood take on a slow-paced, atmospheric, and emotionally subdued European thriller. Instead, it winds up being an above average film with moments of greatness, but lacking the follow through.