For a movie centered around one of the world’s most famous kidnappings, “All the Money in the World” isn’t much of a thriller. There’s no mystery. And there’s very little action. It’s mostly an exploration of how J. Paul Getty, the world’s first billionaire, was little more than a sack full of rotting turnips.
In the hands of Christopher Plummer, Getty is one of the best movie villains in recent memory. It’s not so much for his actions as for his inactions, as he refuses to spend a dime to ensure the safe return of his beloved grandson, John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer, no relation), all the while shelling out millions on art.
The only way Getty could be any more repulsive would be if director Ridley Scott had kept Kevin Spacey in the role.
“All the Money in the World” forever will be known as the movie that whizzed on the ashes of Spacey’s career. The actor was accused of assaulting former co-star Anthony Rapp on Oct. 29. The movie was pulled from the prestigious AFI Fest a week later. In an unprecedented move, Scott met with Plummer about taking over the Getty role Nov. 6. Some $10 million in reshoots and 35 days later, Plummer was nominated for a Golden Globe.
I haven’t seen Spacey’s take on the character, and probably never will, but Plummer’s addition was worth every penny.
In July 1973, John Paul Getty III, who goes by Paul or Paulo, is kidnapped in Rome. His mother, Gail (Michelle Williams), receives a ransom demand for $17 million, but the kidnappers refuse to believe she has no money. She’s a Getty by marriage, though, and that union ended years ago with her husband’s infidelity and drug use.
Upon hearing the news, the elder Getty can’t tear himself away from his ticker tape. After all, the markets just opened. But he eventually dispatches Fletcher Chace (Mark Wahlberg), his adviser and fixer, to bring Paul home, “as quickly and inexpensively as possible.”
“There’s very little in life worth paying full price for,” Getty says. And that, apparently, includes ransoms.
Granted, you don’t become a billionaire by throwing away money, but Getty was such a notorious skinflint, he had a payphone installed in his mansion for guests to use and does his own laundry in a hotel bathroom to save a few dollars. At one point he sits up, wild-eyed, in his ostentatious bed, and you wouldn’t be all that surprised to see him staring down the Ghost of Christmas Past.
Written by David Scarpa (“The Last Castle”) and based on John Pearson’s book “Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortune and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty,” “All the Money in the World” comes with a caveat: “The film is inspired by true events. Some scenes, characters and dialogue have been fictionalized for dramatic purposes.”
Still, moviegoers should have no trouble sympathizing with Williams’ Gail and her desperation as the months drag on with no sign of hope for Paul’s return.
And, thanks to Plummer’s delicious, otherworldly lack of compassion, “All the Money in the World” should strike a chord with audiences who are fed up to — climbs a ladder, balances milk crates atop that ladder, scales those, stand on tiptoes and reaches for the heavens — here with corporate greed.
Movie: “All the Money in the World”
Running time: 132 minutes
Rating: R; language, some violence, disturbing images and brief drug content
Opens Monday: At multiple locations