All the Money in the World – Film Review by Pat Viale
Director: Ridley Scott
Writers: David Scarpa, John Pearson (based on the book by)
Stars: Michelle Williams, Christopher Plummer, Mark Wahlberg
It is unfortunate that Ridley Scott’s latest film, All the Money in the World, will probably be remembered as the movie where Kevin Spacey was airbrushed out rather than for the extraordinary performance of his replacement, Christopher Plummer, as the misanthropic and reclusive billionaire, J. Paul Getty. Set in 1973, the film tells the true story of the kidnapping of Getty’s grandson, John Paul Getty III, and of the frantic efforts of the young boy’s mother, Gail (Michelle Williams) to convince Getty Snr. to pay the ransom demanded for his release.
The opening shots of the film show us an eight-year-old John Paul III, living an ordinary middle-class life with his parents and siblings. Estranged from his billionaire grandfather (reputed to be the richest man in the world) his parents struggle to make ends meet but are determined to maintain a normal and happy environment for their children. When, out of the blue, John Paul’s father is offered an executive position in the Getty empire, the family moves to Rome and is catapulted into a completely different type of existence, setting in motion the destructive forces that eventually lead to John Paul’s abduction.
We next meet John Paul as a long-haired, gangly, 16-year-old (well played by Charlie Plummer, no relation to Christopher) drifting aimlessly around the back streets of the Eternal City, chatting to prostitutes, appearing both vulnerable and world weary. The intervening years have been difficult for the young man including his parents’ divorce and his expulsion from school. What follows next is well known, but skip to the next paragraph if you want to avoid the details. Snatched by a criminal gang, he is kept hostage for months in appalling conditions as his kidnappers negotiate with his family, asking for a ransom of 17 million dollars. Eventually he is sold on to a Mafia gang, where his treatment becomes more brutal, culminating in the infamous episode when his ear is cut off and sent to his family (here shown in graphic detail).
While the police investigation and the attempts at rescue play a part in the film, Scott’s focus here is on the effect of the kidnap on Getty’s family. While his father (Andrew Buchan), now a drug addict living in Morocco, shows little interest in his son’s fate, Michelle Williams as John Paul’s mother Gail, is stunning in her performance as she desperately tries to convince Getty Sr. to help free her son. He responds with “I have 14 other grandchildren, and if I pay one penny now I’ll have 14 kidnapped grandchildren.” preferring to spend his millions on the acquisition of yet another medieval portrait of Madonna and Child.
The intervention of Getty’s right-hand man, Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg) eventually helps bridge the battle of wills between Gail and Getty Sr. and lead to a positive conclusion. All three actors give outstanding performances and must certainly expect to be among the Oscar nominations due to be announced in January. Only Romain Duris as the chief kidnapper, Cinquanta, is disappointing, seeming more like a villain in a Victorian melodrama rather than a convincing Calabrian bandit.
Although Scott’s film is more of a family drama (albeit an extraordinary family!) than an action adventure, it never flags in pace and is always tense and engaging. Despite some harrowing scenes, he presents here a sanitised and heroic version of the Getty saga – it is worth checking out, after seeing the film, the full facts and the fate of the people involved. But this is cinema and a good story should never be restricted by actual events – and what Scott presents here is a totally engaging and cracking good tale.