My Take – Despite his excellent work, director Ridley Scott has for the most part, been on a downward spiral in recent years, with films like Exodus: Gods and Kings, The Counselor, and Alien: Covenant, making quite a dent in an otherwise almost spotless filmography. Making matters worse, his latest film will probably be most remembered for the behind the scenes scandal involving Kevin Spacey‘s sexual allegations resulting his axing from the film, followed by an expensive re-shoot with Christopher Plummer coming in as a replacement, all done in order to release on its intended December release date and to qualify for the awards season. Nevertheless, away from all the behind the scenes drama, the film turned out surprisingly well. Yes, director Ridley Scott pretty much couldn’t have done a better job as the film succeeds as an edge-of-the-seat thriller that will keep you engaged throughout, as it gripes from start to finish as the whole notorious kidnapping and release situation were far from straightforward, making it quite horrific and scary, not just because of the ordeal the boy faced. The intense frustration one feels at the colossal incompetence of the Italian police and the rife criminality in the country at the time are palpable. The warped sense of priorities the great JP Getty displayed is shocking till today. Adapted by screenwriter David Scarpa from the precisely descriptive titled 1995 John Pearson book ‘Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J Paul Getty‘, the film, though not an in-depth characterization of John Paul Getty, the storytelling instincts of director Ridley Scott, and remarkable acting of Christopher Plummer and Michelle Williams manages to keep us engaged for its 132 minute run time.
The story follows Gail Harris (Michelle Williams), a worried but headstrong mother of Gail; mother of the sixteen-year-old John Paul Getty (Charlie Plummer), the eldest heir to the Getty family oil fortune, who on the night of July 10, 1973, was quietly kidnapped by masked men from the Plazza Farese in Rome. Demanding a ransom of $17 million, it’s up to Gail to convince her former father-in-law & Paul’s grandfather, billionaire J. Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer), to pay the massive ransom amount, before anything drastic happens to Paul. However, Getty Sr. refuses, and instead places his hired negotiator, Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg), a former CIA operative on the job to retrieve his grandson by any means possible. As kidnappers become increasingly volatile and brutal, Gail and Fletcher become unlikely allies in the race against time that ultimately reveals the true and lasting value of love over money. Being based on a true story, there is a lot of material to mine from this story and I think director Ridley Scott does a good job of showing characters that seemed out there as being realistic. It’s also worth noting that the pacing may not be for everyone, as based on the trailers, one would assume this to be a sleek kidnapping film with a fun soundtrack, and potentially a big shootout scene at the end featuring Fletcher Chase, instead, it was a far slower paced, more mature film than I’d anticipated, as there were barely a handful of action scenes, though those which were present were handled very well and managed to be intense. Yes, perhaps the most impressive aspect of the film is that whether or not all of the bells and whistles of this story were true, director Scott is determined to keep you on the edge of your seat with suspense, even if you ultimately know where the story ends up, and luckily, this story is perfect for a cinematic experience. The true events are unfortunately tragic for many involved, but in the end it’s the character of J. Paul Getty that makes for a truly riveting character to watch. Not willing to budge to pay a single dime for his grandson’s ransom is beyond frugal, and the fact that the events didn’t play out in an even worse manor is a miracle. Yet his reasons to deny the ransom makes sense, as by paying off would open a floodgate of abductions for his other grandchildren and a point made later on but nonetheless fascinating history about the nature of the Getty fortune. Regardless, the central conflict of the story is not the kidnapping but the struggle between patriarch and daughter-in-law for the soul of the family and the deliverance of Getty III. Here, director Ridley Scott blends the experiences of the hostage Paul Getty with the worry of his mother and the indifference of his grandfather beautifully, along with showing the banality of crime and wealth. A film where the wealthy and the greedy constantly pursue money yet don’t know where to pursue it. From Getty’s oil business to the counterfeit purse factories to child trafficking to simple drug dealing, everyone is guilty of money signs on their eyes. Even with all the riches he could hope for, Getty would rather spend money on inanimate pieces of art rather than his own family, claiming that they at least hold value and stay the same over the years. The film also has a lot to say about the Getty family in general. A lot of it centering on the complications that many wealthy families go through when everyone assumes that their all rich. These parts are quite fascinating; John Getty Sr. going through his conflicting love for his grandchildren and his money, Gail trying to prove she’s not a greedy individual who simply can’t pay, and even John Getty III’s trial during his kidnapping.
Serving as the rock of the story, it’s upon Gail’s her shoulders director Scott places his moral messages, and uses her character to bring light the absurdity of greed. When she divorces John Paul II, instead of demanding money and a fortune from Getty, she only wants custody of her children, which befuddles Getty, because in his mind everyone wants his money. When the kidnappers demand $17 million for the return of her son, she is two months late on the rent, and thus goes to bat for her son against an empire. No one is technically a villain. Their all just characters that you either accept or not for their actions. Surprisingly though, the film shows little of how the media at the time handled the event and chooses to focus mainly on the Getty family members and what they went through instead. The message isn’t all that hard to get, but the way its presented is perfectly aligned with it, as director Ridley Scott shoots every frame in a gloriously gray haze, almost squeezing out the glam and style of wealth, while also stripping out all sense of hope from the main hostage story line, by constantly jerking me around with every sigh of relief followed by another trap. For those who don’t get it, it’s a film about how money makes us more grimy and hopeless than the actual hostage. As the film reaches its third act, it kicks into a pace that never lets go of its audience until the credits roll. That being said, the first two acts of this film involve a lot of conversations on how to accomplish goals and taking many phone calls with the kidnappers. The dialogue is very well-written and keeps you engaged throughout the course of the entire film, but I feel that the film itself was about 20 minutes too long and certain sequences could’ve easily been trimmed down, making for a much more exciting film. Not that this is supposed to be an exciting story or anything, but the kick was missing for me. I get it, the replacement process after the shooting had wrapped may have caused the slight awkwardness in the narrative, although I wish those certain scenes should have been handled better. The ear removal scene is explicit enough to elicit groans and shrieks from the audience, so be advised. However despite this, I think the excellent performances and dark nature of the film keeps it going. The real star of the film is Christopher Plummer‘s Getty, who despite a supporting role, walks away with the headlines, as he really sells the character of a withered man fed up with the people around him scrounging him for his fortune. Turning in an incredible performance, Plummer totally inhabits this larger-than-life character and he’s interesting even at his most disgraceful. Plummer‘s performance is all the more impressive considering he stepped in at the last minute and shot all of his scenes in just 8 days. I have to say that Plummer is so outstanding in this role, that I cannot imagine Kevin Spacey for this role anymore. Michelle Williams also shines in here role, here, putting in yet another underrated performance, she leads the film in her own distinct way, while giving every other actor present a run for their money. Mark Wahlberg is good here too, even if he is let down by an underwritten character. In supporting roles, Charlie Plummer and Romain Duris are also quite good. Here, Charlie brings elicits sympathy for John Paul and his scenes with Romain make you care about their relationship even if it’s between a kidnapper and his victim. On the whole, ‘All the Money in the World’ is an engaging tale of greed and power led by a strong performance from Christopher Plummer
Directed – Ridley Scott
Rated – R
Run Time – 132 minutes