The average viewer may not know who J. Paul Getty was. If they do recognize the name, it’s most likely from his extensive collection of art, housed in Santa Monica’s Getty Center or the Getty Villa, located just up the coast in the Pacific Palisade. They might even recognize him as the answer to a trivia question: Who was the world’s first billionaire? But in a world of thousands of billionaires, first no longer holds currency.
Yes, according to the 1966 Guinness Book of Records, J.P. Getty was the world’s richest private citizen, worth approximately $1.2 billion. Getty made his money in oil, the first to mine the Middle East for its vast seas of black gold in the late 1940s. Where others saw sand, Getty saw money, and where others would spend vast fortunes, Getty saved his.
Who was this mysterious billionaire? What made him tick? And why didn’t he pay the $17 million dollar ransom when his 16-year-old grandson was kidnapped? Well, if they didn’t know then, they certainly don’t know now.
Based on the book, Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty by John Pearson, and directed by Ridley Scott with workmanlike adequacy, All the Money in the World recounts the 1973 kidnapping of John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer) by the underground syndicate, ‘Ndràngheta.
Ransoming the grandson of the world’s richest man should have been a slam-dunk, but old man Getty (Christopher Plummer, more on him later) refuses to part with a penny of his fortune. Young Getty’s mother, Gail (Michelle Willimas), has divorced herself from the family and hasn’t a dime to offer. Not to be embarrassed, Getty brings in his personal fixer, Fletcher (Mark Wahlberg, painfully miscast), to try and negotiate with the kidnappers. One of them, Cinquanta (Roman Duress) takes a liking to the young Getty and does everything he can to protect the boy.
Jumping back and forth between the three stories — the kidnappers trying to get the money, Gail trying to raise the money, and Getty refusing to part with any — All the Money moves without any real urgency or drive. The race to free the young Getty becomes the engine that moves the movie along, but Scott and screenwriter David Scarpa seem much more interested in what makes wealthy men tick.
Plummer is good as Getty (isn’t he always?) but there isn’t much more to Getty than a pastiche of Ebenezer Scrooge, Charles Foster Kane, Noah Cross, and Shylock — one edit connects Getty haggling over a million dollar painting to a butcher chopping off one pound of beef. There aren’t any grand revelations to be mined in here, just another portrait of a rich old man who seemingly has everything yet owns nothing.
Yet, what makes All the Money in the World a curiosity is not the subject of the story, but how the story made its way to the screen. The first All the Money go-round cast Kevin Spacey in the role of Getty, but mere days before the movie’s premiere at November’s AFI Fest, stories of severe sexual misconduct involving Spacey hit the press and Sony pulled the film The solution: recast Christopher Plummer in the role, reshoot, and hope for the best. And, with the exception of a few unfortunate looking CGI mattes and some obvious stand-ins, Plummer fits into this movie as if he were intended to be there the whole time. Not too shabby from a technical point of view, but the successful substitution of Plummer for Spacey shows just how hollow All the Money in the World is. It’s a half-hearted indictment of capitalism wrapped up in a thriller based on incidents from real life. Nothing more, nothing less.