There is something a little disconcerting when one starts seeing a number of “period” films released based on actual events that one remembers clearly. It reminds me of the first time I heard an REM song on the oldies channel — “But that’s not old?!”
“All the Money in the World” is set in 1973 and is a story I remember following with great interest at the time. Sixteen-year-old John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer), grandson of the world’s richest man — in fact, as the movie tells us, oil baron J. Paul Getty was the richest man who had ever lived — was kidnapped from the streets of Rome and held for ransom.
Like any movie, director Ridley Scott’s invention stretches the truth of the story to keep the suspense moving at a pace that builds the intensity organically.
Of course, no mention of the film can ignore the pictures big pre-release story — Scott’s decision to re-shoot all the scenes with old man Getty, replacing Kevin Spacey in the wake of his sexual assault allegations with Christopher Plummer, at a cost that increased the budget by 25 percent. Technically, he has done a pretty seamless job, but he also lucked out — Plummer is superb.
He struts around as if he owns the world, as the value of his stocks supercedes the value of his family. We see him holding court in his gloomy English mansion, surrounded by “things” — he has a need to possess, and that extends even to his family. His familial interactions are cynical manipulations rather than loving encounters. To concede an inch is a weakness in his quest for “more.”
Michelle Williams, underused in “The Greatest Showman,” gets a lot more to do here, as Paul’s mother, Gail Harris, desperately trying to raise the ransom money and bring her son home, and she is the solid core of the film’s humanity. When she divorces Getty’s drug-addled son, she is cut out the family and her pleas to her father-in-law for the ransom money fall on deaf ears, with Getty telling reporters, “I have 14 grandchildren, and if I pay a penny of ransom, I’ll have 14 kidnapped grandchildren.”
The film follows three threads — Gail’s desperate search, aided by Getty’s CIA-trained operative Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg), Getty’s loving attachment to his tickertape machine and his money, and the relationship between Paul and his kidnapper Cinquanta, played by Romain Duris.
The third strand plays out almost like Stockholm Syndrome in reverse. The original kidnappers seem to be amateurs who have no intention of hurting Paul, they are just out to make a buck, thinking it will all be over in a few days. As the months drag on, and Paul is sold on to a more ruthless gang, Cinquanta goes as well to try to protect him.
In real life, one of Paul’s captors was helpful. The film takes a few liberties with this character, but Cinquanta is our surrogate, incredulous that such a rich man would refuse to pay the ransom and pitying the poor little rich boy (the real events are listed in this Vanity Fair article).
The movie, written by David Scarpa from John Pearson’s 1995 book “Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortune and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty,” takes quite a few artistic licenses but the audience is rewarded with a fine thriller.
However, the film is more than a simple crime caper. The Bible poses the question, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” “All the Money in the World” is an entertaining exploration of that concept.
(Note: the film is better than the Mark-Wahlberg-saves-the-world trailer would suggest)