Director: Ridley Scott
Cast: Michelle Williams, Mark Wahlberg, Christopher Plummer, Charlie Plummer, Romain Duris
Money and wealth are probably two of the most-used plot devices in films. Even more so when they are married together in some form. Stories ranging from people having too much money to people having too little have always interested moviegoers trying to understand why money drives people the way it does, or doesn’t, in some cases. All the Money in the World provides a different insight into the power of money that easily draws in not just the interested but also the average viewer. New perspectives on standard plots are always welcome, but does the almost extreme artistic licence taken by Ridley Scott on John Paul Getty III’s kidnapping story take it too far and render it unbelievable?
Detailing Getty III’s (Charlie Plummer) kidnapping, All the Money in the World follows the steps his mother, Gail Getty (Williams), took to free him from his Italian Mafia kidnappers. They demanded $17million from her, knowing full well who John Paul’s (known just as ‘Paul’ in the film) grandfather was: J. Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer), the billionaire oil tycoon who was famously frugal and stingy with his money, even when it came to his own family. Gail was joined by ex-CIA operative Fletcher Chase (Wahlberg) in tracking down her son, and it’s through Gail and Fletcher that we see Getty’s inaction in helping the grandson he claims to ‘love’.
Scott used John Pearson’s book Painfully Rich: the Outrageous Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty as a basis for his film, and, much like Chinese whispers, the extra drama added into the film’s true story through-line gives it sturdier entertainment value but at a cost of believability. There is a notice at the very end of the film, before the credits, that does admit to the fictional aspects of the film, and the movie poster itself does announce that it was ‘inspired by true events’, however it can be felt quite obviously that Ridley went a tad overboard. For instance the penultimate scene involves a chase around an Italian town that feels like it was added in purely to provide a dramatic and entertaining end to an otherwise fairly monotonous film (the chase did not occur in reality), and the use of a small MacGuffin in the shape of an apparently ancient relic that could be worth millions. There are but two aspects of the film that are grounded in reality and give it its raison d’etre: Getty’s fortune and Getty III’s suffering at the hands of his kidnappers (although after further research it’s clear the extent of the torture and beatings suffered by Getty were omitted, strangely). Most everything else appears to be of Scott’s artistic licence. This wouldn’t be a problem if they were more seamlessly added, but they do stick out like sore thumbs.
Potential scandal surrounded this film, and it’s a subject that must be touched upon. Christopher Plummer’s casting came about after it was decided that the film could not be released with the inclusion of Kevin Spacey, originally cast as J. Paul Getty, due to the sexual assault allegations against him that were coming out during post-production. Scott, to his absolute credit, very quickly decided to re-shoot all of Spacey’s scenes with Plummer, whom Scott initially wanted to play Getty. Despite the extra cost of $10million and further issues about the in-equal pay between Wahlberg and Williams for the reshoots, it proved to be the right decision, otherwise the film would likely not have seen the light of day. Scott has said that Spacey’s performance will never be seen by the public and Plummer never saw it himself, thus giving him more freedom to create Getty in his own way. And he does a marvellous job: Plummer’s Getty is a complex man, at once an understanding and doting grandfather but also a stern, cold and closed-off individual. He is perhaps portrayed too nicely at times, which are at odds with true accounts of the man (apparently Spacey’s performance was far more unfeeling, something he has generally been good at in his performances in the past, which makes his shameful fall from grace all the more disappointing), however it makes for a more intricate character whose actions are at times surprising, whether good or bad. Plummer was nominated for Best Supporting Actor at this year’s Golden Globes, BAFTAs and Academy Awards for his role as Getty, and quite rightly too.
Always a pleasure to watch, Michelle Williams shines as Abigail ‘Gail’ Getty. Williams is an actress that only seems to get better with time, and her choices of roles are generally impeccable. Her part as an inwardly terrified but outwardly strong mother is perfectly suited to her: she makes it quite clear that she is a mother in reality, as her portrayal feels natural and authentic. Mark Wahlberg is decent enough as Fletcher Chase, acting as a go-between for J. Paul Getty and Gail Getty. Other than playing the mediator, Chase as a character could easily have been a quieter part, though his presence does give audiences a view into the investigative side of the kidnapping.
John Paul Getty III could have been a meatier character. Charlie Plummer did a good enough job to make the character likable and easy for audiences to emotionally connect to in his ordeal, however his plight didn’t seem quite as believable or as terrible as the true account tells us (one of the kidnappers took pity on him numerous times within the film, which, whether that part was true or not, felt out of place). The PTSD he’d suffered would’ve been a welcome subject to end on too: seeing Getty III almost get a father-figure out of Chase and calmly walk out of shot with him felt too neat, too tied up. The rest of Getty’s life post-kidnapping makes for sad reading, and it would have been preferable to see this reflected.
As far as Ridley Scott’s inspired-by-true-events films go, All the Money in the World does not reach the heights of anything like Gladiator, Black Hawk Down or American Gangster. It’s entertaining enough, the performances certainly award-worthy and Scott’s handling of the Spacey-saga commendable, however its blend of reality and fiction is not perfect. It’s a good pre-cursor to Danny Boyle’s upcoming television show, Trust, also based on Getty III’s kidnapping, but perhaps Boyle’s decision to go episodic with the story will allow more of the noteworthy fact to take centre stage than the audience-pleasing (or attempt at) fiction.