All the Money in the World
Script-O-Meter Rating: 7
J. Paul Getty, the richest man in the world (the early 1900’s), would not come up with ransom money to free his kidnapped grandson despite pleadings by his daughter-in-law.
One of the decisions that a writer needs to make in the initial outline is whether to have a storyteller/narrator. Particularly for the Memoir/True Story methodology, a narrator can enhance the narrative if he is a character in the story. If the narrator has no intimate stake in the story, he becomes the middle man between the audience and the characters. This can seem detached and sterile, much like a documentary.
In All the Money in the World, the narrator is the grandson who is kidnapped. We hear a young voice talking about how the Gettys are not like the rest of us folk. When we realize that the voice belongs to the grandson, it seems as though the genre is Comedy Noir, when we see images of Getty’s wealth; carriages; mansions; huge rooms with exotic art; crowds of sycophants surrounding Grandpa Getty. Then, this narrator is lost. He completely disappears from the narrative. True, he is kidnapped. But using a narrator like this seems a ridiculous contrivance. The genre is not Comedy Noir. The genre is Drama and historical epic. This is not the way to inject a tad of humor into a poignant story of the moral decline of riches to rags.
For, this is a character study of Getty as Opponent vs. his daughter-in-law Hero. A better choice for narrator would have been the Mark Wahlberg ex-CIA security character, who was the point of view character to the Hero of the story. Wahlberg was in the story later, basically hanging around, a reactive character that seemed like another contrivance. He steps up to the plate right before the Climax/Battle, but the punch is lost because his character, until that point, is underused.
Another problem with this script was in the initial decision of how to portray a Hero (the mother of the kidnapped boy) as not sliding into victimhood. In the “real world,” a mother, whose child is ripped away from her, ie. kidnapped, is indeed a victim. But for a script to play well with an audience, who also understands that the mother is indeed a victim, the writer needs to think of techniques that Drive the story forward, a.k.a. Narrative Drive. If a character is a victim and only waits for more terrible things to happen, the plot becomes predictable and boring. The character is reactive, as opposed to being proactive.
The forward motion of a story is critical for its success. Without Narrative Drive, we have a documentary, with no need to show a Character Arc or a plot that evolves to solve the inner Need of the Hero. A documentary can swing into sub plots and on the ground interviews that can be crosscut to amplify the theme of the documentary “story.”
However, with All the Money in the World, the writer should have opened by taking the audience to one big Climax moment in the plot, ie. when the grandson of J. Paul Getty thinks he’s home free after escaping captivity and is attempting to contact his mother. There’s a shot of a hand slamming down on the receiver at an Italian police station and thus, severing the connection.
This would have been a Climax scene to then do a ”time jump” to the beginning of the story: Show life as a Getty; an up close dose of family dysfunction; a Getty up close of wealth and power and obsession with art, as opposed to the ability to connect with humans, let alone family; bring in the relationship of Getty to his son, the Hero’s husband; a groveling humanity trying to “steal” Getty’s money; a warped perception of just how much money is enough money; a look into Getty’s Ghost (Back Story) for why his psychological flaws of greed and paranoia, and his moral flaws of an inability to show affection emanated.
The writer ignored the Hero’s Ghost (Back Story). ie. Why did she marry this n’er do well man? Because he was a Getty? What are her flaws? Instead, she is written as the distraught mother trying to get rich Getty to part with money she does not have. But that very fact could have been written into her Character Arc: She married for money, but when it came time to save her son, all she had was the Getty name, minus the ability to save her child’s life. This would have made a powerful Character Arc for the Hero (mother).
Then, it should have been written: As the Inciting Incident of the kidnapping enfolds, and the resultant attempt by the mother to get the $17 million ransom money from her ex-father-In-law fails- The mother then takes a series of action steps to achieve her Desire/Goal: Get her son released by his kidnappers. This technique would move the Drive in a forward motion and the plot would not have dragged.
However, the writer chose to not approach the story in the above manner, but rather to do the following with this script: Use multiple time jumps to show the Back Story, which the audience does not need to see. For example, how Getty amassed his fortune with the Arabs and oil deals; the buildings he constructed; the palaces he built, etc. This takes the audience way off the Narrative Drive of the story. If a scene does not support, negate, or challenge the Desire/Goal of the Hero (the mother), then delete the scene.
Also, another subplot, the total debauchery of Getty’s son, the Hero’s ex-husband, did not need to be delved into. Much of the drugs, sex, and rock and roll of the ex-husband did not move the story forward to show the action steps the mother takes to try and get her son back.
Additionally, not really the fault of the script, but a unique, if not weird “back story” to the production of this film: Kevin Spacey, who appears in the Trailer, and who originally played the Getty role- Spacey was cut out and removed entirely from the film. Christopher Plummer was called after the film had been edited and was 5 weeks to hitting the cinemas. Using green screen, Plummer was re-edited into the film. He apparently had eight days to learn his lines.
Spacey, accused of being a sexual predator, was thrown out. The money men behind this film most likely made a purely financial decision: How could they cast a defamed actor in a film amidst so much controversy? They would certainly lose their ROI (return on investment). The result of this bizarre turn of events was disconnected editing. ie. Returning to the scene of the Hero making momentary contact with her son and the abrupt disconnection by an Opponent: The scene that follows does not show any sort of breakdown from the Hero. Instead, she cooly asks the Mark Wahlberg bodyguard character to give her children breakfast because she needs to go out. Also, Plummer is in the desert with Arabs who don’t give him eye contact and the lighting is surreal. There were other superimposed and broken scenes as well.
What saved this film was the superb acting. But unfortunately, the script was highly flawed. And then, along came a most unfortunate set of circumstances in the climate of this film’s release.