All the Money in the World A Portrait of Megalomania


Directed by Ridley Scott
TriStar Pictures, 133 minutes, R (violence)

If you are watching All the Money in the World and suspect what you're seeing isn't entirely accurate, you're right. But it's probably not the parts you think. Its central absurd core is absolutely true; that is, in 1973, sixteen-year-old John Paul Getty III was abducted in Rome by Calabrian mobsters and held for $17 million in ransom. His grandfather, though his favorite grandchild's life was in peril and he was the richest man in the world at the time, refused to pay it—partly because he feared it would spark further kidnappings and partly because he despised terrorists, but mostly because he was such a tightwad he'd squeeze a twenty till Lincoln screamed. Young "Paul" was not released until five months later, after his captors cut off an ear to prove they were prepared to kill their captive, and not until the price dropped to $3 million. Even then, Getty ponied up just $2.2 million, as that was the maximum tax deduction he could claim. He loaned his son John Paul, Jr. the remaining $800,000 at 4% interest!

All the Money is the World is a study in megalomania. It's no Citizen Kane, but it's better than most of the early reviews purport. It took quite a lot of backpedaling to get it out in time for the awards season. The movie was originally finished in the summer, but with Kevin Spacey cast as the elder Getty. Gay sexual harassment charges reduced Spacey from star to box office poison, which prompted director Ridley Scott to slice all of Spacey's scenes and reshoot them in a single month with Christopher Plummer as Getty (1892-1976). This hasn't boosted the early box office, but it's hard to imagine anyone doing a better job than Plummer. It would be shocking were he not to gain a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination. His Getty is filtered through a misanthropic acid vial. At one point in the film, the five-times married/five times divorced Getty calmly explains that he prefers things to people as material possessions seldom disappoint. At the time of the kidnapping, Getty Sr. had pretty much walled himself into a high-security estate in England where he could monitor his oil fortune and revel over his precious art collection (which posthumously became California's Getty Museum). We watch Plummer disdainfully dismiss those seeking to help his grandson, as he reads the stock ticker.

Charlie Plummer—no relation to Christopher—plays J. P. Getty III (1956-2011). He's fine in the role, though he doesn't need to do much more than be clueless in the early part of the film and defenseless the rest of the way through. He does, however, give us glimpses of why JP III was expelled from his English boarding school, why he had a reputation for being a reckless brat posing as a hippie, and why his post-release life was tragically foolish. Mostly, though, the film is a vehicle for Michelle Williams as Paul's mother Gail, and her efforts to convince his grandmother to ransom Paul. I generally like Williams as an actress, though I'm not sure why she has been so highly praised for this role. She plays frustration and exasperation very well, but she never really convinced me that she had much maternal anguish. There is considerably more chemistry between Williams and Mark Wahlberg, who plays Fletcher Chase, an ex-CIA man, Getty security chief, and go-between. Chase is not a Hollywood invention; he really was a key liaison between the kidnappers, Gail, law enforcement, and Getty Sr.

Some of the other details are more for effect than accuracy. Paul's father, John Paul Getty (Andrew Buchan), Junior (1932-2003), is portrayed as a hopeless drug addict. This is uncertain at the time. He and Gail divorced in 1964, nine years before his son was abducted. His second wife had died in 1971, he was a depressed, and perhaps using drugs in 1973, but he played as large a role in trying to secure his son's release as his ex-wife and simply did not have a fortune at the time. Scott elides time. Junior later fell prey to severe addiction, but not until after his son's release. In like fashion, the elder Getty died in 1976, not as implied in the film, shortly after Paul's rescue. Nor did Paul's final despite flight from the 'Ndangheta crime syndicate actually occur; it was added for dramatic tension.

The liberties taken with fact scarcely matter; after all, Charles Foster Kane wasn't literally William Randolph Hearst either. Ridley Scott really wants us to contemplate age-old questions such as when is enough, enough? Does absolute power corrupt absolutely? Do the ultra rich lack morality? Are ego and self-aggrandizement the engines that drive the rich man's train? I don't know if Scott wants us parallel J.P. Getty Sr. and Donald Trump, but it's rather hard not to do so. Scott is always a masterful storyteller with an interesting movie palette and this taut drama is no exception. I doubt this film will go down as a great Ridley Scott film, but it's good enough, which is more than can be said about the Getty clan.

Rob Weir

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