ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD – Review
Everyone recognizes that hoarders have a psychological problem but what if the thing that is hoarded is money? Ridley Scott’s ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD tells the true story of the 1973 kidnapping of the grandson of oil magnate J. Paul Getty. The event was one of the most infamous scandals of the decade, because the notoriously miserly Getty was then the richest man in the world yet declined to pay the ransom he could easily afford.
This strange-but-true story is part crime thriller and part psychological family drama steeped in obsessive greed. Based on real events and people, director Scott made some changes made for dramatic effect, rearranging events in time, or combined or compressed them or fictionalized others. The kidnapping dragged on for months and some of the most bizarre events in the film really happened, sometimes were even more strange than depicted. The two of the most mind-boggling events, Getty’s refusal to pay the ransom and the incident with the ear, are true.
In making his drama about the Getty family crisis, Ridley Scott was faced with a crisis of his own. when the actor cast as billionaire J. Paul Getty, Kevin Spacey, was embroiled in his own scandal. To save his Oscar-hopeful film, Scott made the bold choice to re-cast the role with Christopher Plummer and re-shoot, not digitally alter, the 22 scenes Spacey appeared in during nine days filming in November to still try for a late December release. Ridley Scott made the release date window, and the film may be even better for the casting change.
Christopher Plummer does a bang up job as the elder Getty, and since he is much closer in age to the 80-year-old oil tycoon, it meant that he did not have to endure the same kind of make-up transformation Spacey needed, making it more convincing casting. But the real central figure in this thriller is not the billionaire but his ex-daughter-in-law Gail, played marvelously by Michelle Williams, the mother of the billionaire’s kidnapped 16-year-old grandson.
As Gail repeatedly notes, she is not a Getty but her son certainly is one. Living in Rome with her three other younger children, Gail Harris Getty (Williams) rarely sees her wild-living teen-aged son, who goes by the name Paul (Charlie Plummer, who is not related to Christopher). Divorced from drug-addled J. Paul Getty Jr., who goes by the name John (Andrew Buchan), she and her son have no access to the Getty money. But the kidnappers don’t know that when they snatch Paul off the streets.
When the teen is kidnapped, there is a suspicion it is a hoax, since Paul sometimes joked about extracting money from his fabulously rich but famously cheap grandfather. But the kidnapping is real and the kidnappers send a letter demanding a ransom of $17 million dollars. With no real funds of her own, the boy’s desperate mother Gail is forced to ask his wealthy grandfather to pay. When the billionaire refuses, Gail has no choice but to find a way to change his mind. Meanwhile, the elder Getty sends his head of security, ex-CIA agent Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg), to find the kidnappers and try to get the boy back without the ransom.
The irony is that at the time of the kidnapping, the older J. Paul Getty was not only the richest man in the world but the richest man in the history of the world at that time, the world’s first billionaire. Yet he not only loved making money, he hated spending it, obsessively hoarding it.
The cast also includes Timothy Hutton as Getty’s coldly efficient lawyer Oswald Hinge and French actor Romain Duris, who plays Cinquanta, one of the actual kidnappers who developed a sympathy for the kidnapped boy in disgust over his grandfather’s cold-hearted refusal to pay. That character is one of the many strange-but-true aspects of the film. The unlikely ex-CIA security expert Mark Wahlberg plays is also a real person, who was an even odder character than the one in the film.
Ridley Scott does a fine job recreating the 1970s time period and the lavish world Getty inhabits in his English mansion, as well as the media hysteria that surrounded the kidnapping. But the acting is the strongest point of the film. Michelle Williams really excels as Gail, the outsider to the Getty family’s madness and money, representing a normal person’s point-of-view. She is the emotional heart of the film, a mother who will face anything to save her son, and the sane contrast to the insane mix of money, addiction, power and compulsion. Plummer is chilling as the controlling tycoon, whose attachment to money is as much an addiction as any to drugs. Young Plummer does fine, but the role is largely limited to having the kidnapped boy look miserable. Duris is memorable as the kidnapper and Mark Wahlberg is good casting as the security expert.
The kidnapping dragged on for months, which allows the film to develop the dynamics of the Getty family. The danger ratchets up further when members of a Mafia-like organized crime group become involved. After the kidnapping takes place, Gail is pursued relentlessly by the paparazzi, willing to do anything to get a photo for the juicy story, which reflects the reality of the time.
Getty’s money obsession is illustrated in a scene where Plummer explains the damp laundry hanging up in his very posh hotel room to his daughter-in-law Gail (Michelle Williams) by noting proudly that he is saving the cost of room service. This bizarrely Scrooge-like behavior is Gail’s first introduction to the father-in-law she never met, from whom her husband J. Paul Getty Jr. (Andrew Buchan) had long been estranged. The younger Getty was wary of his controlling father but with four young children, the couple decides to ask him, not for money, but just for help finding a new job. The older Getty welcomes the return of his son, gives him a job heading the Getty Oil Company’s Italian division in Rome, and seems particularly taken with the grandson who also bears his name. But there is a high price for his help.
Some details are real but others are enhanced for dramatic effect, Getty was indeed famously penny-pinching and he really did have a coin operated pay phone in his mansion, as we see in the film, although he later removed it. However, he did spend lavishly on some things, particularly art and women, and did marry five times.
ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD is an intriguingly bizarre true crime story but it is not a perfect film. The pacing sometimes sags and the film seems to switch from an unsettling psychological drama to an action crime thriller towards the end, in which Williams and Wahlberg team up to chase down the kidnappers. The facts around the real kidnapping are so odd that it takes some fact-checking to separate far-fetched fiction from strange real events, but detailing which scenes are which would just create spoilers.
The film’s real strength lives in the performances, led by Michelle Williams’ Oscar-worthy one as the level-headed, grown-up woman caught up in the Getty family’s toxic relationships, and trying to save her son in an era where women were routinely dismissed. Christopher Plummer’s turn in the much smaller role as the miserly tycoon is also gaining awards buzz.
ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD is worth the money, for the strange true story but especially for Michelle Williams’ and Christopher Plummer’s fine performances.
RATING: 4 out of 5 stars