In 1973, J. Paul Getty III, the grandson of billionaire oil magnate J.Paul Getty, was kidnapped from a piazza in Rome. He was 16 years old. A ransom demand was sent to young Getty’s mother, Gail Harris. It demanded $17 million; the idea being that the money would come from the grandfather. Several factors complicated this from happening. Harris was estranged from the Getty family. Her son had often joked about staging his own kidnapping. J. Paul Getty was an infamous miser whose first reaction upon hearing the ransom demand was to refuse.
ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD brings us inside this bizarre world of the mega-rich. There is a voiceover from Charlie Plummer as J. Paul Getty III, declaring that the extremely wealthy are simply not like other people. In the weeks, and then months that pass after the kidnapping, this is borne out by the grandfather’s actions. At first neither he nor the father, J. Paul Getty II, believe that III has been taken. Grandfather Getty tasks one of his Getty negotiators and a former CIA man, Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg), to look into the case. He crosses paths with Gail Harris who is rightly suspicious of his intentions
The kidnapped Getty is in rural Calabria being kept in a series of farmhouses. As the days pass, his kidnappers become more and more desperate and threatening towards the boy. His grandfather’s refusal to pay, make it less and less likely Getty III will survive.
Ridley Scott has directed a fascinating version of this real-life crime story. The kidnapping was terrible enough, but the response to it was truly extraordinary. Even all these years later, J. Paul Getty’s months-long refusal to pay seems like a stunning reaction, especially when this was happening to one of his favourite grandchildren. The ageing billionaire, who at the time was one of the richest men in the world, showed no compassion for the plight of a vulnerable family member and in this sense, we judge him to be a monster. A great deal of the fascination of this movie is watching the J. Paul Getty justify his choices. He lives by his own standards. He is answerable to no-one and more than anything, desires control.
Christopher Plummer’s portrayal of the senior Getty is brilliant; it is subtle and layered and all the more notable for being shot in just nine days. Plummer was director Scott’s original choice, but Sony preferred Kevin Spacey in the role. After Spacey’s professional demise as the result of sexual assault allegations, Scott took the decision to reshoot all of the Spacey material. The end result is seamless and the strength of Plummer’s performance confirms the wisdom of Scott’s first choice.
Michelle Williams is excellent as Gail Harris. Charlie Plummer (no relation to Christopher) is good in the understandably passive role of J, Paul Getty III. Romain Duris is particularly compelling as ambivalent kidnapper Cinquanta. The performances are solid across the board. The story moves along at a decent clip. We are always drawn in by the many machinations of this tale. It’s inspiring to see 80-year-old Scott still directing energetic and engaging movies at this stage of his career
ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD is about the ways in which wealth can distort our humanity. A very entertaining 2 hours and 2 minutes in the cinema. (8/10)