"All the Money in the World" certainly earns points -- and merits curiosity -- for its sheer logistics, having replaced Kevin Spacey at the eleventh hour in the wake of sexual-misconduct allegations. Yet Christopher Plummer's admirable performance and the high degree of difficulty aren't enough to make director Ridley Scott's movie about the famous 1973 kidnapping feel as if it delivers a wholly satisfactory payoff.
Inspired by the real-life abduction of billionaire J. Paul Getty's 16-year-old grandson, the liberties that the film takes become especially pronounced during the climactic act. While Plummer's portrayal of Getty as an imperious, penny-pinching plutocrat has a timely aspect in this age of income disparity, those very qualities border on caricature, as the movie's sympathies reside with Getty's daughter-in-law Gail, played by Michelle Williams.
Say this much: Excising Spacey and subbing in Plummer in a matter of weeks was no small undertaking. It's a major role, and the movie (adapted by David Scarpa from a book by John Pearson) is actually strongest during its first third, when Plummer's Getty figures most prominently in the story.
After that, the contortions surrounding the kidnapping, and Gail's efforts to gain her son's release with the help of Getty's fixer, Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg), become more conventional, building to a thriller-like conclusion that seeks to ratchet up the tension but proves so conspicuously crafted and Hollywood-ized as to sacrifice authenticity.
The young Paul Getty (Charlie Plummer, no relation to Christopher) is idling in Rome when he's suddenly dragged into a van, with the kidnappers demanding $17 million in ransom.
But there's a rather sizable hitch: Gail disinherited herself, as we're shown in flashback, when she divorced Getty's son. The elder oil baron, meanwhile, isn't inclined to pay, citing concerns about the safety of his 13 other grandchildren if he knuckles under, and dispatching Chace to help settle the matter as quietly -- and cheaply -- as possible.
At 88, Plummer is closer than Spacey to Getty's age at the time of the incident, and having just played Scrooge in a movie, he brings a similar quality to this, slyly dashing off lines like "If you can count your money, you're not a billionaire." The challenge is in keeping him from slipping past larger-than-life eccentric into something more akin to a Bond villain.
Without knowing much about Gail, it can be taken on faith that Williams has deftly approximated her clipped accent. Those speech patterns, however, prove something of a distraction initially, with the performance growing stronger as she displays her resourcefulness and grit while fighting battles on two fronts -- one against the kidnappers, another versus her father-in-law and his legal henchmen.
The other standout is the French-born Romain Duris, playing the kidnapper who becomes most closely involved with Paul, doing what he can to mitigate the more harrowing aspects of his ordeal.
While the circumstances surrounding Spacey and Plummer's late insertion into the film addition have surely heightened interest, those issues are among the movie's strengths, ultimately separate from and secondary to its unrelated flaws.
"Everything has a price," the elder Getty sneers. Weighing the benefits, "All the Money in the World" has its strong points, but it's debatable whether they add up to being worth the price of a ticket.
"All the Money in the World" opens Dec. 25 in the U.S. It's rated R.