Overview: A tragic true story of the kidnapping of John Paul Getty III in 1973; Imperative Entertainment; 2017; Rated R; 133 minutes.
“Why doesn’t your family love you?”: Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World is the story of the kidnapping of John Paul Getty III in 1973, and his grandfather, J. Paul Getty, at the time the richest man in the world, who refused to pay his ransom.
Michelle Williams as Gail Harris, mother of John Paul Getty III (referred to as Paul) carries much of the film, and is always committed and often successful. Although her affectations sometimes feel overdone, she has the most with which to work emotionally and grounds the character in a believably distraught yet stubborn spirit. Christopher Plummer as J. Paul Getty is remarkably successful in making Getty both likable and detestable. The complexity of Getty as a man is one of the most interesting elements of the film and Plummer does a remarkable job with the character.
Mark Wahlberg, as Fletcher Chase, believably conveys the hard exterior of a former CIA operative, but provides very little with which the audience can connect, as the actor is lacking the emotional range of Williams or Plummer. Romain Duris as Cinquanta, one of Paul’s abductors, is a standout, one of the most morally interesting characters and nuanced, varied performances, and reflects the best of the aspirations of the film.
Charlie Plummer as John Paul Getty III is heartbreaking. Throughout the film he is disregarded, distrusted, mutilated, bargained for, and sold like cargo, and Charlie Plummer’s performance, full of sensitivity, weakness, and defiance, shines often through expression alone. There is an unfortunate lack of subjectivity on the part of Paul, however, that permeates the film and leaves the emotional base of the story lacking. Just as there is a voice-over from Paul that is not utilized after the first third of the film, so too does Paul’s point of view fade after a mostly focused start, to the film’s detriment.
All the Money in the World is a deeply personal family drama that involves issues of organized crime and international political unrest, and is impressively deft at handling that balance. Its script, however, has a tendency to oversimplify, and can often become condescending social commentary. But when the dysfunction of the Getty family and the troubling mindset of J. Paul Getty are the focus, this unbelievable story is felt with devastating emotional impact.
“Everything has a price”: All the Money in the World is a film rife with effective use of juxtaposition and contradiction. The romance of Italy with its villas, fountains, and cobblestone roads, and its underbelly of political unrest, grime, and poverty. J. Paul Getty’s home and Paul’s filthy living quarters. The comfort and beauty with which the J. Paul Getty lives his life and absolute cruelty that exists within the Getty’s family dynamic. The cinematography bears this out beautifully. Whether following Gail through various palatial homes or following Cinquanta and the kidnappers through cramped dirt hallways or a humble country home, an abundance of wide shots and long takes allow the juxtaposition of location, class, and values to be most strongly seen and most subtly felt.
When this film commits to the nuance, the themes are well-addressed. However, the writing often undercuts this strength, when trite, general statements about wealth and family are made which undermine the film’s honesty. The kidnapping of John Paul Getty III is already a powerful story of greed, family, and morality, unbelievable enough to be allegorical, and most attempts to turn this story into a simple morality tale conveys a lack of trust in the viewer and the source material. Most awkwardly written is a confrontation between Getty and Chase that not only feels pointedly non-historical but reeks of the kind of overblown melodrama and oversimplification of themes seen in weaker biopics.
“Money is never just money”: Chase, at one point, tells Getty that what is being done to Paul by his kidnappers cannot be undone. The inclusion of his statement makes the omission of Paul’s tragic adulthood somewhat baffling. John Paul Getty III struggled with alcohol and drug addiction after the kidnapping, which led to an overdose and subsequent stroke that left him quadriplegic, partially blind, and unable to speak. To chronicle much of Paul’s adolescence without expanding his story to its tragic end left a feeling of incompleteness, a rare case in which reality offered a more conclusive and thematically poignant end than its adaptation.
Still, there are interesting explorations here, mostly concerning the concept of value itself, that remain consistent throughout, and that leave a lasting impact. What is the nature of the invaluable and the priceless? Is objective valuation of anything from art to human beings possible to separate from human emotions? Is a single human life worthless or priceless, and what’s ultimately the difference? When the religious and existential musings that characterize Ridley Scott films are seen, and when J. Paul Getty’s mindset is given more exploration than criticism, All the Money in the World is a film with a story worth pondering.
Conclusion: John Paul Getty III was caught in the crossfire of a battle of values, emotional weakness, and familial grudges, and when All The Money in the World focuses on that fact rather than allowing its success to be diminished by stilted dialogue and broad statements, it is truly a story as fascinating as it is horrific.