The 1973 kidnapping of John Paul Getty III, the 16-year-old grandson of billionaire oil tycoon J. Paul Getty, is told with solid style and suspense in Ridley Scott’s “All the Money in the World.”
But style and suspense are only part of the story, in a screenplay that also mines philosophical musings about the power and nature of money, both to corrupt and to sustain, out of the bedrock of this borderline B-movie. The film is larded with such epigrammatic quips as “There’s nothing people can’t find a way to turn into money.”
That’s Fletcher Chace (Mark Wahlberg) speaking to the kidnapped boy’s distraught mother, Gail (Michelle Williams), in one of many cash-themed conversations that Scarpa shoehorns in, amid the panicking, strategizing and negotiating. After J. Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer) refuses to meet the Italian kidnappers’ demand for $17 million for the return of his grandson, nicely portrayed by Charlie Plummer (no relation), the ransom drops to $4 million. The cocky Chace, an ex-CIA operative, is J. Paul Getty’s chief liaison with the kidnappers, police and Gail, who was left nearly penniless after divorcing the teenager’s father, J. Paul Getty II (Andrew Buchan), depicted in the film as a feckless lush.
J. Paul Getty is depicted as a soulless miser who puts Scrooge to shame. Plummer’s performance, a last-minute substitution for Kevin Spacey, is a perfect fit for the film’s Croesus villain, both in age and penny-pinching heartlessness.
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The plot covers the five months during which the teenager was held captive. One of the goons, nicknamed Cinquanta (Romain Duris), develops a tender rapport with his hostage that comes in handy in a grisly scene depicting the most lurid aspect of the kidnapping — involving a severed body part — and in the film’s heavily fictionalized climax.
Everything and everyone has a price, the film suggests, in ways that are far from subtle but effective. In one of the film’s most pointed scenes, J. Paul Getty is negotiating with someone we are led to believe may be the kidnappers’ representative. It turns out to be an art dealer, however, offering a religious painting for $1.5 million. “My child,” Getty coos to the painted baby Jesus, in a voice that tells you how creepy his attitude about money is: Commodities are just like people; both can be bought and sold.
“All the Money in the World” may not have many surprises up its sleeve if you already know how this story ends. You will, however, get your money’s worth, one way or another: whether it’s from the crime thriller or the thought-provoking sermon on filthy lucre.
‘All the Money in the World’
Rated R for strong language, some violence, disturbing images and brief drug use. 2:12. Fayette, Hamburg, Nicholasville, Richmond, Winchester.