Money makes people do strange things. Some people go to great lengths to gain it. Others go to great lengths to keep it. This film is a story about the latter.
Based on a true story, All The Money In The World is a tale about the incredibly rich yet unfathomably frugal Jean Paul Getty. Getty, who died in 1976, made most of his fortune in the 1950s after combing through a barren land in the Middle East and discovering oil.
Getty was so wealthy, the Guinness Book Of Records once named him the world’s richest private citizen, with an estimated worth of US$1.2bil in 1966.
Despite his extraordinary wealth, Getty was an extraordinary cheapskate.
Just to give you an idea, he once had a coin-operated pay phone installed in his English estate for guests who wished to place a phone call. Scratch that, here’s a better example.
In 1973, when his teenage grandson Paul was kidnapped by Italian gangsters in Rome, the elder Getty refused to pay the US$17mil ransom, which forms the premise of All The Money In The World. Actor Christopher Plummer plays senior Getty while Charlie Plummer (no relation) plays young Paul in the film.
“I have 14 grandchildren, and if I pay a penny of ransom, I’ll have 14 kidnapped grandchildren,” he tells the press gathered outside his extravagant manor in the film.
It’s up to Paul’s mother Gail (Michelle Williams), who had cut ties with Getty years earlier, to cough up the ransom money. Getty later sends former CIA operative Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg) to Rome to “get the boy home as safely and as inexpensively as possible.”
First things first, Plummer’s performance as Getty is impressive, given the circumstances. The 88-year-old signed on to the film only one month before the film’s release date, replacing Kevin Spacey in the role following the ex-House Of Cards star’s sexual misconduct allegations.
There must’ve been a lot of pressure trying to re-shoot Spacey’s scenes within such a tight deadline but none of that has any affect on Plummer’s acting.
He plays Getty so effectively, it’s hard not to feel like taking the man by the collar and shaking some sense into him.
Another standout character is Gail. Like any mother would be, she is scared out of her wits for her son’s life, but there is a strength and resolve about her, beautifully conveyed by Williams.
Instead of being engulfed with emotions, Gail’s reactions to the cards she is being dealt with is often more pragmatic – coolly weighing what steps to take, in the face of such harrowing circumstances, which is nice to see in a female lead.
The film plays out like a crime thriller, mostly going back and forth between the kidnappers and the rescuers as they try to outsmart each other. The filmmakers – director Ridley Scott and writer David Scarpa – also take some creative liberties and introduce some interesting twists and turns, which lends further excitement.
There’s nothing wrong with treating the film as a crime thriller. In fact, I enjoyed it. But I expected more of an examination of Getty’s psyche.
My biggest gripe with the film is that it doesn’t explain what led Getty to be the man that he was. Surely, you can’t boil down Getty’s mind-boggling actions to him just being a cheapskate.
Perhaps something had happened earlier in his life that made him this way? (Apparently, Getty’s father, who owned an oil business, thought Getty would destroy the family business when he handed over the reins. And, Getty sought to prove his father wrong. This isn’t featured in the film but maybe it had something to do with it?)
Then again, perhaps there just isn’t enough known about Getty’s background for the filmmakers to flesh the character out.
Considering its premise, All The Money In The World also doesn’t delve deep enough into its central theme of money, greed and the things that actually matter in life, which would’ve made it more impactful and right on the money.
All The Money In The World
Director: Ridley Scott
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Michelle Williams, Christopher Plummer, Charlie Plummer