‘I’ ON CULTURE
All the Money in the World is a fast-paced drama based loosely (in some ways, very loosely) on the real kidnapping of John Paul Getty III by bumbling Italian mobsters back in 1973. He was held for a ransom of $17 million. That kind of number might sound crazy, but his grandfather was John Paul Getty Sr., then the richest man in the world, worth billions.
Getty (Christopher Plummer) basically was the owner of the company drilling and distributing oil for Saudi Arabia. When his daughter-in-law Abigail (Michele Williams) came to him begging for money, he pointed out that “Paolo,” as Getty III (Charlie Plummer, no relation to Christopher) was called, was one of 14 grandchildren, and that if he paid, every one of them would be kidnapped. However, he did not just sit back, but sent his top security guy, Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg), to retrieve him.
Some of what follows is a comedy of errors, at least at first. Paolo seems to get along with his captors, particularly leader Cinquanta (Romaine Duris). The kidnappers seem a group of bumblers who got lucky that they didn’t injure themselves kidnapping the boy. But then, a much tougher group takes over. To get Getty Sr.’s attention, they cut off one of the boy’s ears. That scene is tough. If you are squeamish, you might not want to see the film.
The key center of the film is the family drama between Abigail and the old man. Her ex-husband is a useless drunk, but she intends to get her son back and tries to put pressure on Getty Sr. She joins up with Chase in the chase to get the boy back.
The backstage drama around the film is even weirder than the plot. Kevin Spacey was the original Getty Sr., but as the stories about his sexual predation spread, director Ridley Scott decided that he had to be replaced, something not easily done, since the actor had appeared in 22 scenes. Plummer was drafted to replace him and, at a cost of $10 million, the scenes were reshot on a tight deadline.
Despite all of that, the film never seems disjointed; the work was seamless. Plummer gives a really strong performance, somehow giving some avuncular warmth to a really soulless person. Getty might have had a very strong argument about not giving in to kidnappers, but watching his grandson’s suffering, it is hard to like him. Plummer brings a complex underpinning, though, that keeps the old man from being a stereotype.
Williams is the real star of the film. Hers is the central part, although elements of that have been overlooked because of the real-life drama behind the scenes. She no longer is the waif that she played for years. She is a smart, tough woman dealing with her own issues as she fights like a mother wolf for her son. Hers is the best performance in the film.
Young Plummer is very good as the boy. He does not present him as particularly gifted or special in any way. He seems like one of the stoners from the 1970s, although a very likable one. Wahlberg essentially plays himself.
Actually, much of what we see is not completely true. The real Chase was not wildly competent and spent most of his time chasing down dead ends. Getty Sr., who in the movie seems to finally get along with Abigail and her son, never really cared all that much for his family. The vast majority of his wealth went to the Getty Museum.
Traumatized at such a young age, the young man got deeply into drugs and, years after the kidnapping, had a stroke that turned him into a quadriplegic. Vibrant Abigail, who actually had to go to court to get child support from her husband, nursed him through all of that. Sometimes movie endings are a lot nicer than reality.
Director Ridley Scott, a real pro, keeps the film moving quickly, from fast-moving street scenes to family drama. It is a tough film, but there is plenty of drama, something missing from far too many movies these days.
Is it worth seeing? I cannot rave about it. But it is a strong, professional drama, without a lot of the baggage that other films have. It is worth seeing.