A robust screenplay by David Scarpa, direction by Ridley Scott as bracing as a strong belt of brandy, and an excellent cast giving it all they’ve got contribute dramatic heft to a riveting story of American avarice and greed behind the factual 1973 kidnapping of oil tycoon J. Paul Getty’s grandson, J. Paul Getty III (aka “Paul”), snatched from the streets of Rome on a sunny July day and held for a $17 million ransom which the old man refused to pay. The saga made world headlines and earned the infamous Old Man Getty a disapproval rating second only equal Donald Trump.
The valid, fact-filled and invigorating movie of the events, called All the Money in the World, is quite a story, but instead of due praise it runs the risk of going down in movie history as the last film starring disgraced actor Kevin Spacey. Millions were spent scrapping his scenes as the curmudgeonly old billionaire and re-shooting major portions of the movie with his replacement, Christopher Plummer. The safety net saved the movie without exposing any weak links within the scene structure, although there are times when Plummer’s scenes fail to match the scenes that precede and follow them, giving the film a slightly unbalanced matrix. Nothing serious, I must add, and in many ways I cannot imagine the original casting would have worked as well. Spacey is too young for the role and lacks the toxic soul Plummer plays so well.
ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD ★★★
So the juxtaposition of lush glamour, stylish lifestyle and immeasurable wealth, all gorgeously photographed in an opulence that melts the eye, clashes violently with the absence of decency, lack of humanity and death of values that rich people cling to in their effort to hold onto the money they’ve got and in their ruthlessness to make more.
Flashbacks show the soul-bleaching of young Paul’s childhood—his drunken father, his beautiful but deprived mother Gail, and four siblings, all forced to beg the family patriarch for survival, while Grandfather Getty made oil deals in the Saudi Arabian desert dressed impeccably in white linen. After years of disinterest in his family, Paul’s father turned into a womanizing alcoholic and braindead drug addict.
Gail (a spirited steel magnolia of a belle played with great strength by Michelle Williams) is the penniless but loving mother who foolishly refused alimony from the Gettys, and then tried everything in her power to convince Old Man Getty to pay the ransom and save his grandson’s life). And Mark Wahlberg is Fletcher Chace, the ex-CIA agent Getty dispatches to Rome to see how much money he can save in hostage negotiations. In a gnarled and implacable impersonation of a totally hateful monster, Plummer shows not only what money can buy, but how an empire can destroy. Oblivious to the kidnappers’ demands, he shows his first sign of remorse when his grandson’s severed and bloody ear is delivered to his desk, wrapped in decaying newspaper, sliced off like Van Gogh.
Ridley Scott does a meticulous job of unraveling myriad gruesome facts in the case, and although it’s no surprise how it all turns out, the way a complex crime is played to the final throw of the dice by opposing forces is both admirable and focused. The cast is uniformly first-rate—especially Williams, who never waivers in her faith, grief-stricken but always in control of her senses, and Plummer, concrete as a statue in his self-made egotism—a vile, greedy, spiteful old creep who puts fortune over family, and proves, in the end, what the title implies—there’s no price on decency, and all the money in the world can’t buy peace of mind.