Warning: Cannot modify header information - headers already sent by (output started at /clientdata/zeus-dynamic-1/j/o/johnmcdonald.net.au/www/index.php:44) in /clientdata/zeus-dynamic-1/j/o/johnmcdonald.net.au/www/wp-config.php on line 53
All the Money in the World | John McDonald

All the Money in the World

January 5, 2018
No-one does a media feeding frenzy like the Italians.. 'All the Money n the World'
No-one does a media feeding frenzy like the Italians.. 'All the Money n the World'

Everything has a price. That’s the philosophy of life put forward by J.Paul Getty – not simply the richest man in the world in 1973, but allegedly the richest man that had ever lived. Getty applied the same principle when he sought to beat down the ransom demands of the gangsters who had kidnapped his 16-year-old grandson. In his estimation, US$17 million was too much for one teenager. He’d eventually get it down to US$3 million.

Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World tells the story of the Getty kidnapping and the extraordinary behaviour of a tycoon who wanted to make a deal rather than accept a first offer. Would Donald Trump would do the same if someone ran off with little Barron? One of the unspoken subtexts in this movie is that an inordinate love of money can overpower every human instinct – and today the world is ruled by money in a way that was inconceivable in the 1970s before the advent of Reaganomics.

In 1973 J.Paul Getty was the world’s first and only billionaire. Nowadays they are thick on the ground. If they were all like Getty it would be an alarming situation. It’s no surprise that he minimises his tax, but there can be few billionaires who do their own laundry, or have a pay phone installed for the use of guests.

All the publicity for this film has centred around the last-minute substitution of Christopher Plummer for the disgraced Kevin Spacey in the role of Getty senior. It leaves us wondering what Spacey might have made of the part, although perhaps one need only think of the brutal Frank Underwood from House of Cards.

Whatever we’re missing from Spacey is more than matched by Plummer’s performance, which is the highlight of this film. Coming to the part with no time to over-think the character, he provides a masterly portrait of a miser in the grip of his obsessions who nevertheless likes to think of himself as a family man. His claims are so ill-founded that his son, J.Paul Getty II (Andrew Buchan), is a drug-addled misfit who obvously never felt loved.

The powerhouse of the younger generation is the old man’s daughter-in-law, Gail Getty, played in a commanding but understated manner by Michelle Williams. At the time of the kidnapping, she and her husband are already separated. Gail is living in Rome with her three children, while J.Paul II spends his time in Morrocco smoking dope with rock stars.

J.Paul III (played by Charlie Plummer – no relation to Christopher) has had a taste of his father’s lifestyle and grown into a rebellious, free-spirited teenager. The film begins with him wandering through the streets of Rome one night, being sassy with the hookers, until he is bundled unceremoniously into a van.

Scott lets us feel the young Getty’s long, drawn-out ordeal, culminating in the moment when his captors carve off part of an ear to mail to the family, threatening to send the rest in small portions unless their demands are met.

Meanwhile, old man Getty is fantasising about being the Emperor Hadrian in a previous incarnation, and spending millions on the art collection that now resides in two museums in Los Angeles. He delegates the kidnapping problem to Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg), a former CIA agent who provides him with security advice. It will be Chase and Gail who undertake the arduous negotiations with the kidnappers, which means striving to convince them of the old man’s intractability.

Scott has made a few improvements on historical truth. Wahlberg is a rather glamorous stand-in for the real Fletcher Chase, and the end of the story was nowhere near as dramatic as the movie version. Even so, All the Money in the World is a very muted thriller that occasionally feels as dispassionate as a documentary. The tension rises by degrees as Gail struggles to convince her father-in-law to pay up while dealing with the kidnappers’ growing anger.

Getty’s meanness is bemusing for the audience, but it was no less so for the kidnappers who, as good Italians, began to see his attitude as an insult to the sacredness of the family. Rarely has a true story had such an air of unreality.

All the Money in the World
Directed by Ridley Scott
Written by David Scarpa, after a book by John Pearson
Starring Michelle Williams, Mark Wahlberg, Christopher Plummer, Charlie Plummer, Romain Duris, Timothy Hutton, Andrew Buchan
USA, rated MA 15+, 132 mins

Published in the Australian Financial Review, 6 January, 2018