Review by C.J. Bunce
It was a bit of an oddity this year to have a choice of watching on television or at the movie theater what might have been a forgotten footnote to the strange 1970s life styles of the rich and famous. In many ways the only real value of the story of the kidnapping of John Paul Getty III, grandson to the once richest man in the world, is the almost Aesop’s Fables inspired punchline of the movie title, All the Money in the World. Mark Wahlberg as security man Fletcher Chase gets to deliver the goods to Getty at film’s end: It doesn’t matter how much money the billionaire Getty had, it didn’t bring him happiness. Based on John Pearson’s book, Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortune and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty, the film is now streaming on multiple platforms. This year’s television series Trust, featuring Donald Sutherland as the senior Getty, offered up the same story over a much too long 10 episodes. Sutherland’s Getty is shown as far more disturbing than in the movie, and other than providing an example of Sutherland in another creepy role, the show had very little to offer.
All the Money in the World, the film version of the story, features a showcase of acting talent in a script that is almost up to the task. Christopher Plummer is Getty I, the grandfather who in 1973 refused to pay his grandson’s ransom, even after those who kidnapped him cut off and mailed-in the young man’s ear. Plummer stepped in late in production after Kevin Spacey was ousted from the film because of Spacey’s sexual misconduct scandal. The result proves that at any age Plummer can create a compelling character, even if the real man behind the character seems far less interesting than one might think. Wahlberg is playing what has become one of his stock character styles–this is the brash Boston cop in The Departed and the decisive marksman from Shooter. Wahlberg plays the tough guy well here, in a role that echoes private investigator Jay J. Armes’ rescue of Marlon Brando’s kidnapped son just one year before the events in the film. Young actor Charlie Plummer (no relation to Christopher) is Getty’s grandson, an atypical twist on the typical troubled youth character. French actor Romain Duris is compelling as a member of the captor group who helps keep Getty alive during is confinement. Always delivering a strong performance, Oscar winner Timothy Hutton unfortunately is underutilized as Getty’s loyal lawyer Oswald Hinge.
Directed by Ridley Scott, the movie is similar in execution to last year’s Steven Spielberg historical drama The Post. The film has themes in common with Orson Welles’ Charles Foster Kane in Citizen Kane, but Scott didn’t opt to add any memorable style as Welles did with his classic story of a man acquiring possessions to the exclusion of family or love. It’s not great, but it’s a solid drama. But the biggest success of the film comes through via its lead actress, four-time Oscar-nominee Michelle Williams. Williams portrays the grandson’s mother not as an emotional wreck but a determined mother who works frantically to negotiate her son’s release, with no help from the elder Getty or her disaster of an ex-husband. And she couldn’t justify those Academy nods any better than balancing an affected accent, the billionaire family lifestyle, and that single mom angst as she attempts to reflect a parent handling a tragic event most people will never have to encounter.
The only Oscar nomination for the film, best supporting actor, went to Plummer for his performance. A slate of Ridley Scott regulars returned to form his production team, including Dariusz Wolski, Arthur Max, and Janty Yates. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Black Mirror’s “U.S.S. Callister” episode composer Daniel Pemberton brings in another exciting musical score.
America evidently can’t get enough of the Getty family. It could be because the billionaire continues to live on in a way through his oil pipelines still cross the country, and a Los Angeles cultural highlight is the museum with his name on it. As with predecessor historical drama Argo, this niche of drama looks like it’s going to be around a long time.