Having been mired in controversy over the initial casting of disgraced actor Kevin Spacey, All the Money in the World has somehow managed to avoid one of Hollywood’s biggest recent pitfalls. Directed by Alien and Blade Runner filmmaker Ridley Scott, it dramatises the shocking true story of oil tycoon J. Paul Getty, the world’s richest man who refused to stump up the ransom money for his kidnapped grandson. With time running out, it fell to the latter’s mother Gail to arrange for the boy’s release.
Atmospheric and gripping, if intentionally overwrought, the movie appeared doomed by original Getty actor Spacey. But Scott exerted all his considerable influence and tenacity to pull together a series of last-minute reshoots, drafting in his original choice Christopher Plummer as Getty, alongside stars Michelle Williams and Mark Wahlberg (himself, ironically, now embroiled in a salary row). Conducted over nine days at the cost of $10million, it’s one of the most remarkable turnarounds in recent movie history, although the film now seems destined to be remembered for its production woes than for its many virtues (the terrific performances from Plummer and Williams among them).
Another of the movie’s key assets is the arresting score by Daniel Pemberton, one of the rising stars of the soundtrack scene who now reunites with Scott for the second time (he previously scored The Counselor for the director). Pemberton’s ascent to the film music A-list has been among the most exciting in recent years, with a whole host of genres covered off and a multitude of different styles contained within. From the eerie Gothic choral horror of The Awakening to the finger-popping pastiche stylistics of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and the utterly bonkers percussive/mouth-breathing onslaught of the punky King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, there’s no denying Pemberton is one of the most versatile on the scene at the moment.
All the Money marks another dramatic swerve, this time into the realm of lushly operatic tragedy. As with The Man from U.N.C.L.E., the influence of Ennio Morricone looms large throughout the grandiose opening track, ‘All the Money in the World (Rome, 1973)’, surging voices, cimbalom and a heavy string section creating an almost suffocating air of greed and might. It’s the perfect visual accompaniment to the chilling shots of Plummer as Getty, entombed within his grandiose mansion as greed has cut him off from any sense of human decency. Of particularly eerie note is the liturgical tone of ‘Hadrian’s Villa’, rich with a sense of desolation, not to mention the beautifully moody strings of ‘Learn a Lesson’ and the gorgeous string/vocal arias of ‘Getty Arrivals’ and ‘The Waltz of the Newspapers’. It really is the kind of film music that takes the breath away.
Even so, a great deal of the score’s mid-section is about quieter, more pensive textures and this is the material that may struggle to hold the attention. Mucky guitar textures lend a suitably frazzled quality to tracks such as ‘We Are Kidnappers’ whereas quieter tracks like ‘Masterpiece’ brim with a sense of impending tragedy. Nevertheless, more textural pieces like ‘The Red Brigade’, with its insistent percussion/guitar bleating, the buzzing ‘Police Raid’ and the gloomy ‘Imprisoned’, whilst compositionally and dramatically effective, are a tough sell as a listening experience.
Thankfully the tonal palette returns to the realm of operatic at the climax. Following the discordant wailing of ‘Danger Sign’ (the amount of choral variations wrung by Pemberton is remarkable), the onslaught of ‘Money Drop’ through to ‘End Credits’ offers plenty of sumptuous drama. Cloaked in orchestral and choral majesty as the shocking Getty kidnapping reaches its climax, the music matches perfectly with the lurid atmosphere of Scott’s movie, lamenting man’s greed whilst insinuating such anxieties have been around since time immemorial. It’s a fine example of how a score can add additional dialogue to the movie’s visuals and narrative undertones.
While All the Money in the World lacks the sheer fun of U.N.C.L.E. or the cathartic emotional impact of Steve Jobs, it’s nonetheless a very impressive score. A shorter album presentation curtailing some of the more atmospheric noodling would have worked wonders, but when the score hits big, it’s a powerful reminder why Daniel Pemberton is one of the greatest composers working in film today.