In 1973, an American teenager is kidnapped in Rome and held for $17 million ransom (something like $90 million today, but who’s counting?). For most families, you might as well demand the moon and the stars, but this is no ordinary boy—in fact, the kidnapping victim is John Paul Getty III, grandson of the richest man in the world, oil tycoon J. Paul Getty.
You might imagine that for someone with an estimated net worth of more than $1 billion ($8-9 billion in today’s dollars), the demanded ransom would be a small price to pay for the safe return of a beloved relative. Had the senior Getty taken that attitude, of course, there would be no story worth telling, and this film would not exist. Instead, Getty Sr. refused to pay, claiming that such behavior would simply result in the rest of his grandchildren being targeted by kidnappers (an opinion not without its merits, although not one that interests this film’s director, Ridley Scott). Besides, the elder Getty is really not much of a people person, preferring the company of his substantial art collection in the comfort of his multiple palatial residences.
Kidnapping and extreme disparities of wealth both offer much opportunity for philosophical reflection (case in point—Akira Kurosawa’s 1963 film High and Low), but you won’t find much philosophy in this film. Despite some explicitly brutal scenes (presumably the reason for this film’s R rating) and cat-and-mouse plotting, you won’t find much in the way of tension either, despite the “crime thriller” label being attached to this film.
Instead, All the Money in the World is really a family drama. Much of the film’s appeal lies in Michelle Williams’ portrayal of young Getty’s mother Gail as she desperately tries to convince Getty Sr. (Christopher Plummer) to pay up. Gail has no other options, as she’s not from money herself and is divorced from young Getty’s father (Andrew Buchan, portrayed as a weak-willed drug addict). Her determination impresses Getty’s right-hand man, Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg) who joins in the effort to save her son from the increasingly desperate kidnappers, with the somewhat mixed blessing of assistance from the Italian police force.
The best features of All the Money in the World are the cinematography by Dariusz Wolski (locations include Italy, Morocco, and the U.K.) and performances by a strong cast. Except for one scenery-chewing scene, Plummer creates believability as Getty Sr., who could easily have become a caricature who views everything in life as a business transaction. Williams and Wahlberg are excellent as the ad-hoc team trying to save young Getty, whose sweetness and naiveté are effectively portrayed by Charlie Plummer (no relation to Christopher). Performing ably for the other side are Romain Duris as Cinquanta, the head kidnapper, and a host of excellent actors, most or all of whom you have probably never heard of (I hadn’t). It doesn’t matter—they’re great and present a believable portrait of a world in which kidnapping for profit is a viable profession.
All the Money in the World has made headlines for reasons other than the quality of the completed film. One story involves the replacement of Kevin Spacey after the film had been completed, following multiple accusations of sexual assault (fun fact: Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins played a role in the recasting effort). Another is the claim by the family of the kidnappers that young Getty was complicit in his own kidnapping; they’re also upset at being portrayed as incompetent in their chosen profession. Neither side show need mar your enjoyment of this film: the second version of events would have made an interesting film, but that’s not the one Ridley Scott chose to make. As to the first point, in my view replacing Kevin Spacey with Christopher is definitely trading up. | Sarah Boslaugh