It's a true-life tale about money and family, and it's not pretty. However, it is terribly interesting.
All the Money in the World
Director: Ridley Scott (Alien)
Screenplay: David Scarpa (The Day the Earth Stood Still), from the book by John Pearson
Cast: Christopher Plummer (Beginners), Michelle Williams (Manchester by the Sea)
Runtime: 2 hr 12 min
by John DeSando
“A Getty is special. A Getty is nobody’s friend.” J. Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer)
If Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World does anything well, it shows the banality of crime and wealth, at least as this abduction/ransom motif plays out. It’s the story inspired by the kidnapping of John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer) in 1973, his grandfather’s resistance to paying the Italian Red Brigade’s ransom demand, and the heroic effort of his mother, Gail Harris (Michelle Williams), to bring her son back alive.
After slogging through the tepid back story (disjointed to say the least), the story gains strength through the passions of its leading players, both of whom have strong feelings about the right way to respond to the kidnappers’ demand for $17 million ransom. Mom would pay, considering grandpa is the richest man who ever lived, and he does not in principle want to capitulate.
Yet he may also have two singular reasons to deny the ransom, one that paying would open floodgates of abductions for his 14 other grandchildren and a point made later on but nonetheless fascinating history about the nature of the Getty fortune. Regardless, the central conflict of the story is not the kidnapping but the struggle between patriarch and daughter-in-law for the soul of the family and the deliverance of III.
Although the cross editing between home and kidnappers is sometimes jarring, the director makes the audience feel as if it’s present at the contentious proceedings. Trying to understand why the old man resists the ransom is a most difficult situation for parents who couldn’t possibly buy anything other than to pay, but the audience can witness the arguments as if right there among the players.
Coldness pervades this film, as if Scott were able to let the audience feel the lack of warmth from the old man’s. Several scenes show him in front of large fireplaces, evoking a Citizen Kane ambience. Getty echoes the self-centered, aloof, lonely Charles Foster Kane.
For the history and acting, All the Money in the World is worth enjoying this season. Williams plays a resolute and resourceful mother and Plummer infuses the Scrooge-like Getty with a humanity that feels like we are with the real tycoon.
The film is also a cautionary tale about the corruption of wealth and the tenuous familial relations when money is the major player. See it and be happy with your small fortune, which may be, I hope, your loved ones.
John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.rr.com