Film Review: All the Money in the World

Gripping account of the John Paul Getty kidnapping in the 1970s opens a window into a world of unimaginable wealth.
Major Releases

Against all odds, John Paul Getty III survived a kidnapping that could have crashed and failed several times. The same can be said of All the Money in the World, a completed movie that was a few weeks away from release when one of its leads was accused of sexual harassment.

Christopher Plummer now plays J. Paul Getty, described as not only the richest man in the world, but the richest man in the history of the world. The revered actor gives a precise, chilling, damning performance as a 1970s Citizen Kane, a man besotted by "things" and incapable of ceding control. He is the frightening heart and soul of this enormously entertaining movie.

All the Moneyopens like a fairytale, with Dariusz Wolski's camera floating through a black-and-whitedolce vita vision of Rome. Still a teenager, John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer) ambles by a street of friendly, joshing prostitutes when thugs pull him into the back of a van.

His mother Gail (Michelle Williams) thinks their ransom demand is a joke at first. She then turns to Getty, her father-in-law, who refuses to negotiate with the kidnappers. Instead, he asks security chief and ex-CIA agent Fletcher Chace (Mark Wahlberg) to "fix" the problem.

Working from an adroit script by David Scarpa, director Ridley Scott uses quick flashbacks to flesh out the family's background. Despite Getty's incredible wealth, his long-estranged son John Paul Getty II (Andrew Buchan) and wife Gail live in genteel poverty. Reaching out to his father ruins Getty II, who dissipates himself with drugs and alcohol in Morocco.

Divorced, penniless apart from child support, Gail is assaulted by paparazzi and neglected by indifferent policemen as she tries to rescue her son. (All the Money delights in Italy's dysfunctions, from its hapless crooks to its inept gangsters, cops, journalists, drivers, coroners, etc.) Chace returns from Rome to tell Getty that Paul's kidnapping is a hoax.

Only it's not, which Scott shows in scenes with Paul and his captors that build breathless suspense. Cinquanta (Romain Duris), one of the kidnappers, forms a kind of relationship with Paul. He and the rest of the world can't understand why the Gettys won't pay.

That very reasonable question the movie tries to answer by showing exactly what it meant to be J. Paul Getty. As F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, and as Paul echoes in the narration, the rich are different from you and me. Not just in what they have, but in how they see themselves. Getty is self-absorbed to a monstrous degree, and his behavior, as depicted here, is jaw-dropping.

Plummer captures the steel underneath Getty's jovial surface, his icy greed, his disdain, his murderous contempt. It's a beautifully calculated performance that only occasionally verges into overkill. The other actors are largely along for the ride, responding in varying degrees of disbelief to his behavior. As played by Williams and Wahlberg, Gail and Chace have backbone, but are powerless against an overwhelming foe.

Scott's expertise as a director—his unerring visual sense, narrative focus, mordant humor, and ability to fine-tune performances—elevates All the Money from TV-movie biopic to something like a Ross Macdonald novel, a generational saga of evil and decline that increases its pull as it probes deeper into the murk.

And no matter how publicists spin the story behind the production, this is one of the director's best efforts. Perhaps shooting it first with Kevin Spacey showed him how to refine and distill the story, to find a deeper, truer Getty, to position him as one of the great villains in cinema. Whatever the cause, this is a film of hypnotic urgency, a cautionary tale so rich and smart it will stand up to repeated viewings.

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