All the Money in the World
Updated: Feb 5
In 1973, John Paul Getty III (called Paul), the grandson of billionaire J. Paul Getty, the richest man in the world, was kidnapped in Rome. The kidnappers called Paul’s mother, Gail, and asked for $17 million in ransom. Little did they know that Gail had no access to the Getty fortune, which was completely controlled by J. Paul. And he would not spend his money easily.
This story, based on true events (and the 1995 book "Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty" by John Pearson), is told in Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World, a suspenseful, solidly directed, drama with fine performances (the Getty family claims that the real events have been greatly fictionalized here).
The opening is clever as we see Paul (Charlie Plummer) get kidnapped, followed by the introduction of J. Paul (Christopher Plummer, who was in last month’s biography based on a book, The Man Who Invented Christmas) and Gail (Michelle Williams in her third movie in the last two months after Wonderstruck and The Greatest Showman). Then, the film flashes back nine years to show why Gail is not considered part of the family anymore.
Her, her husband John Paul Getty II (Andrew Buchan, Mark Latimer from the brilliant BBC series Broadchurch), and their children were flown to Rome where John was given a job by his father. J. Paul even developed a close relationship with Paul. However, John became addicted to drugs and his marriage to Gail completely deteriorated. During the divorce proceedings, Gail agreed to forgo any possible money she could be owed in exchange for full custody of their children. Therefore, when Paul is kidnapped, she has no money and no connection to her ex-father-in-law. Though J. Paul cares about Paul (he says love), he cares much more about hanging on to his money. He tasks his fixer, Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg, who starred in last month’s comedy/sequel Daddy’s Home 2), with finding a way out of the situation as cheaply as possible, while also keeping Gail away from him.
All the Money in the World (128 minutes not including the end credits) contains two major storylines. One is about Gail meeting resistance from her ex-father-in-law while trying to figure out how to get her son back alive. The other is about what Paul goes through during his captivity. That first story is the stronger of the two and gets most of the screen time. The drama comes from two places: can Fletcher buy enough time to find Paul before he is killed and is there anyway anyone can convince J. Paul Getty to pay the ransom. Paul’s scenes actually add to the tension of the main story because they show how much danger he is in. He does establish a relationship with one of his captors, Cinquanta (Romain Duris), but that is not developed much beyond Cinquanta feeling sympathy for him. But it does show how much trouble Paul is in every time his grandfather says no.
Ridley Scott’s adaptation (written for the screen by David Scarpa, whose last screenplay was for 2008’s remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still) is skillful and pretty straightforward. It is the story of a man whose tightfistedness forced him to back away from those he could have cared about and the effect that had on those around him. But mainly it is a well-made thriller, solidly directed by a good director. He does not do anything amazing here. He really just tells the story. Sometimes that is enough.
The performances are on-point, as you would expect from these leads. Michelle Williams gives a very strong performance as a woman forced to accept her helplessness. She is scared, angry and brave all at once. Mark Wahlberg is pretty good in the type of role he seems made for. Fletcher goes through a pretty significant change during the film and Wahlberg makes it more impactful by how subtly he plays it.
The other major role is played by the powerful as always Christopher Plummer. He seems perfect for the role of J. Paul Getty, but I cannot talk about his performance without mentioning the man who originally played him.
Kevin Spacey was originally cast as J. Paul Getty. In fact, they actually completed the entire film with him playing the part. Then, less than two months before All the Money in the World was set to be released, the sexual assault allegations came out against him. Ridley Scott then made the decision to reshoot every one of Spacey’s scenes with another actor in the role. Christopher Plummer was quickly cast and the other actors were called back to set to quickly finish the movie, again, before its Christmas day release date. Miraculously, they did. And it definitely does not feel like something that has been hastily reshot and edited.
While All the Money in the World will probably be remembered as the movie Kevin Spacey was replaced in after production had finished, it should also go down as a skillfully made drama. It is solidly written, directed and acted, with Michelle Williams a standout in the lead role. It is just a good movie that tells its fact-based story in a fast-paced and occasionally thrilling way.
3¾ out of 5
Michelle Williams as Gail Harris
Christopher Plummer as J. Paul Getty
Mark Wahlberg as Fletcher Chase
Charlie Plummer as John Paul Getty III
Romain Duris as Cinquanta
Timothy Hutton as Oswald Hinge
Andrew Buchan as John Paul Getty II
Directed by Ridley Scott
Screenplay by David Scarpa