How much is a life worth? To the mother of the 16-year-old boy kidnapped from the streets of Rome on the night of July 10th 1973, it’s priceless. To the Calabrian ‘Ndràngheta crime syndicate who snatched him for ransom in the dead of night, it’s $17m. But to the boy’s billionaire grandfather tightly gripping the purse strings, it’s precisely nothing.
If the idea of the richest man in the world refusing to part with even a dime to free his grandson from the clutches of vicious southern Italian gangsters sounds unbelievable, well, it kind of is. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen… Only the strange tale of the kidnapping of John Paul Getty III here in Ridley Scott’s latest film is all too real.
All the Money in the World is based on John Pearson’s book, Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortune and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty and follows the kidnapped boy’s mother and her increasingly desperate attempts to negotiate a deal with the men who have taken her son. Despite her famously rich oil tycoon former father-in-law’s almost comically stubborn refusal to play ball to any degree whatsoever.
The boy’s mother Gail Harris is played with dignified zeal and class by an extremely on-form Michelle Williams. Gail refuses to give up on her meek hippie son (Boardwalk Empire’s Charlie Plummer), a mission in which she’s aided by former CIA spook and dealmaker Fletcher Chase (a toned down and rather muted/borderline vacant performance by Mark Wahlberg). But a lack of cash and a series of bungles by local police leave Getty III in serious danger of harm from the increasingly frustrated kidnappers.
The infamous JP Getty was, at the time, ‘the richest man who had ever lived’. His initial rationale for refusing to pay the ransom seems, on the surface at least, sensible. “I have 14 grandchildren and if I pay one penny now,” he says at one point to a gathering of reporters, “then I will have 14 kidnapped grandchildren.”
But the real reasons soon become clear. Getty is obsessed with money and winning. He’s an obstinate and rapacious old man. A Scrooge-esque character, he won’t be told what to do and he certainly won’t be beaten at anything. Plus, you don’t become the wealthiest man in the history of the planet by handing over millions of dollars every day, right?
Getty is played superbly here by 87-year-old The Sound of Music and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo actor Christopher Plummer. The veteran actor is already getting plaudits and awards nominations for his performance and it’s no surprise. He’s immense.
What’s most impressive about Plummer in this is that he was a last-minute replacement for Kevin Spacey. You’d never guess it. Fittingly for a film centered around the life of the world’s richest and greediest capitalist, the man playing him completely owns the thing. Christopher Plummer doesn’t so much steal the show as bundle it into a van at 3am and then demand $17m for it.
Despite having to give a performance within the tight confines of rushed reshoots, Plummer manages to present a John Paul Getty that’s heartless, proud, cynical and hugely unlikeable. While also oddly charming, captivating, romantic and, somehow, even a little likeable too. It’s quite the feat.
Naturally, the picture isn’t without its minor faults. As with most films nowadays, it’s at least twenty minutes too long and doesn’t hugely benefit from an almost constant shift in timelines. The finctionalised zhoosh-ing up of certain scenes can seem a little forced and rings somewhat untrue at times (the final scene is quite obviously Hollywood-ed quite a bit).
That said – Plummer apart – perhaps the most endearing and enjoyable part of the movie comes from an entirely fictional character. Played with gusto by The Beat That My Heart Skipped‘s Romain Duris, Cinquanta is a low-level criminal who ‘looks after’ the snatched boy and the pair develop a sweet, if really quite obviously made-up bond. Cinquanta is technically unnecessary, but adds some much-needed pathos and light to proceedings.
A final small criticism here is that if you look into the full story, how the kidnapping affected the young boy as he grew up is equally fascinating. Perhaps a little of the picture’s 133 minutes could have been dedicated to that. But that’s a relatively minor quibble.
On the whole though, All the Money in the World is absorbing, visually arresting and thoroughly entertaining. The subject matter is fascinating and it’s handled brilliantly. As a thriller, it works. As a real-life drama, it’s excellent. As a damning indictment on the truly corrupting nature of wealth and avarice, it’s unrivalled.
Have you seen All the Money in the World yet? We’d love to hear what you made of the gripping true story. Let us know in the comments below!