ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD, an enthralling based-on-fact thriller, directed by the indefatigable Ridley Scott, didn’t capture sufficient money from the world in 2017 to recover its production costs, but the real payoff delivers 132 minutes worth of absorbing drama, sleek visual design and superior performances. Further feathers in the caps of Scott and crew are due to their pulling off a seamless last-minute save of their months of effort when some disturbing reality impacted their show-making business and threatened to turn a desired property into a house of cards. *
“I’m telling you this, so you could understand the things you’re about to see, and maybe you can forgive us. It’s like we’re from another planet, where the force of gravity is so strong it bends the light. We look like you, but we’re not like you.”
In 1973, 16-year-old John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer, 18) is kidnapped in Rome, held for ransom by a crime syndicate, who stash the boy in a remote location in southern Italy. Divorced from his druggie loser father, the boy’s mother, Gail Harris (Michelle Williams), works desperately to try and come up with the money; the divorce settlement gave her child custody but zip of Getty gains. Meanwhile, the reptile-blooded patriarch, 81-year-old oil tycoon J. Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer, 88) seemingly refuses to help: it’s his $17,000,000 the criminals want (yet just a drop in his bottomless billionaire bucket). The old bastard does provide assistance in the form of Fletcher Chace (Mark Wahlberg), a Getty corporate negotiator with a C.I.A. background. Contact with the perpetrators comes via ‘Cinquanta’ (Romain Duris), one of the abductors who develops some sympathy for the victim. Over the six-month ordeal, things go from bad to worse.
With a general like Ridley Scott directing, and with his usual suspects on board in the production crew, you know going in that things will move well and look great; another movie Maserati cruising on every cylinder of cinematography, production design, casting, costuming. The story is sure-fire (fact & fiction blended), the script smart, the locations immersive (Italy, Jordan and England). Though it won’t go down in film lore and popular culture like The Graduate‘s legendary “Plastics”, there is a one-word utterance here that’s as good a definition you’ll find of the greed sickness that is destroying life on Earth. When Fletcher Chase asks J.Paul—who has everything—“what would it take for you to feel secure?, the billionaire’s response is as unqualified and unrepentant as a cobra’s: “More.”
It helps immeasurably when an attitude is struck and dialogue is spoken by a treasure like Christopher Plummer. He was nominated for an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor for this, the oldest nominee ever. Wahlberg’s fine, in a different type of role than he normally plays, Duris is excellent as the see-sawing kidnapper with a semblance of conscience, and young Plummer (not related to the elder) is quite good. High marks to Michelle Williams, vibrating with tension, grit and intelligence, her Gail caught in a situation as absurd and surreal as it was nerve-wracking and perilous.
The screenplay was written by David Scarpa (The Last Castle), and based on John Pearson’s 1995 book “Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty.” Also in the cast are Timothy Hutton (a Getty
snake lawyer), Charlie Shotwell (young John as a boy), Andrew Buchan (the useless, zoned-out dad, John Paul Getty II), and Marco Leonardi (the gangster who “buys” JPG3 from the original kidnappers).
Quality work and good reviews were not enough to guarantee box-office success, with a gross of $57,000,000 (89th place for the year) not enough to erase a price tag that unforeseen actions had elevated to $50,000,000.
* A large chunk of the cost—fully $10,000,000—came about when tawdry scandal forced the re-shooting of 22 scenes. The film was complete and ready for release, when Kevin Spacey, playing the elder Getty, was publicly hoisted on the petard of his sexual predilections. In a cavalry-to-the-rescue situation, Christopher Plummer was brought on to replace Spacey. Plummer’s stellar performance–and the rest of the crew’s as well—is all the more impressive when you find the rework was accomplished in just eight days: pros all down the line.
Getting past that mine field, further negative blowback came later when it was revealed that Wahlberg, who’d been paid $5,000,000 for his role, made an additional $1,500,000 for the re-shoots, while Michelle Williams received per diems for doing the same that amounted to exactly eighty dollars. To his credit, the ensuing uproar saw Wahlberg donate the extra pay to the Times Up Legal Defense Fund, in Williams name.