By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
Industrialist Jean Paul Getty was one of the wealthiest men in the world when he died in 1976. During his lifetime, he developed an infamous reputation as a shrewd and uncompromising businessman who spent his money more carefully than most people of similar wealth. This reputation only grew when he proved to be a most difficult negotiator when his grandson John Paul Getty III was kidnapped and held for ransom in 1973. Ridley Scott’s new movie details the events surrounding the abduction and the difficulties faced in rescuing the teenager. The film, All the Money in the World, is a riveting and sometimes exasperating thriller that offers a powerful commentary on wealth and greed.
While living in Italy with his mother Gail Harris (Michelle Williams), teenager John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer) is a rebellious sort, always acting out and living a wild partying lifestyle. One fateful night on the town, Getty III gets abducted by a group of Calabrese gangsters looking to extort money from Getty’s wealthy grandfather. Once the demand for ransom is issued to Harris, she turns to her ex-father-in-law J. Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer) for help. The overly stingy industrialist refuses to pay any money whatsoever for his grandson’s freedom, but instead turns to his former CIA operative employee Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg) to deal with the situation.
Written by David Scarpa, based on John Peason’s book Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty, Ridley Scott’s adaptation makes for riveting and compelling storytelling that pulls no punches in indicting J. Paul Getty for making a bad situation way worse than necessary. The movie had me tense, often in shock at Getty’s unrelenting greed, and pretty much angry at what a hateful and uncaring character he is in the film. Greed and the disturbing behavior and attitudes that come with it is nothing new in storytelling, but placed in the context of this harrowing true story and in comparison to recent events makes the film no less relevant. The movie builds to what should be a tremendous climax, but seems to stagger during this key moment. This probably is the only sequence that left me somewhat flat. Everything else leading up to this moment, however, is a fine example of taut and dramatic thriller filmmaking.
This movie is a particularly fascinating piece of work, given the special circumstances under which it was finished. As most movie followers already know, actor Kevin Spacey was originally cast in the role of J. Paul Getty, but because sexual harassment and assault allegations have been made against him, Ridley Scott decided to recast the role and reshoot all of the character’s scenes within a short span of two months. Regardless of my feelings regarding the accusations against Spacey, I still feel that this recast is an excellent decision. In the few clips and movie stills I have seen of Spacey in character and in atrocious makeup, I can honestly say Christopher Plummer fits the role way better and more naturally.
His performance in the film is phenomenal and seems more genuine than Spacey doing his version of the older businessman. It is a role that definitely deserves the nominations and praise he is getting. He truly makes Getty a deplorable personification of wealth and greed whose cold heart only warms up for the acquisition of more wealth. Michelle Williams absolutely shines as Gail Harris, the stressed out mother desperate to get back her son, but not so desperate that she has no strength and tenacity of her own. Mark Wahlberg does his usual Mark Wahlberg as negotiator Fletcher Chase. Wahlberg is fine in the role, but doesn’t bring anything dynamic to the character. The movie also stars Romain Duris as Cinquanta, the head abductor. Cinquanta is portrayed as a man desperate for money, but not so uncaring that he attempts to treat his captive as humanely as he possibly can. Charlie Plummer also delivers a solid turn as the frightened and fatigued J. Paul Getty III.
Even though the film isn’t an excellent abduction story with some flaws, it is still a powerful and intense thriller that I must highly recommend. Changing actors at the last minute was no easy feat, but Ridley Scott managed to pull it off and proves that it was the right choice to make. All the Money in the World probably won’t earn all the movie awards in the world, but the acting is already getting the love that it deserves.