ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD
Director: Ridley Scott
Screenwriter: David Scarpa
Cast: Michelle Williams, Christopher Plummer, Mark Wahlberg, Romain Duris, Timothy Hutton
Screened at: AMC 34th Street, NYC, 12/18/17
Opens: December 25, 2017
The late clinical psychologist Dr. Joy Browne, who wrote several self-help books, answered the most significant question that such books treat, and that is: Does money buy happiness? Her answer is a surprise. She states: After a certain point when you have a fairly comfortable financial life, it may add a little happiness, but not much. What’s more, after you reach the point that you have more money than you can count, the possession of money can screw you up mightily. I thought about this, but it wasn’t until I saw how Donald Trump, claiming ten billion but allegedly holding four billion, brought up in New York City and once a Democrat, became an out-and-out, mean-spirited, lying reactionary. He’s not the only one who got destroyed by too much money. Consider John Paul Getty, in 1973 in possession of 2.1 billion which in today’s dollars would be 8 billion dollars. He paid no tax because his entire estate was in a charitable trust, which means that he could not spend any of it but he could invest the money. He did so especially in buying paintings, which in his prime residence filled the walls, perhaps the closets, and under his bed as well.
How do we know all this? Because Ridley Scott, known for blockbusters like “American Gangster,” “Black Hawk Down,” “Gladiator” and “Hannibal,” tells us a lot about Getty within the two hours and twelve minutes at his command. As played winningly by Christopher Plummer, uncovering all the villainy of the man who died in 1976. Visited in a hotel by his son John Paul Getty II (Andrew Buchan) and daughter-in-law Gail Harris (Michelle Williams), and grandchild John Paul Getty III (Charlie Shotwell), he surprised the company by showing his laundry hanging over the bathtub rather than paying for cleaning. Yet when asked about his estate, he answered that if you can count your money, you’re not rich.
Doing your laundry over the bathtub is one thing. But refusing to pay a ransom or even negotiating with kidnappers goes beyond cheap. It’s malevolent. Never mind his reasoning that if he negotiated a figure, some of his other thirteen grandchildren would be kidnapped and, in fact, kidnappers around the world would be inspired to ply their trade more aggressively. This guy is a mean s.o.b. and what’s more he’s not even happy. He said that he does not trust people, but that paintings never betrayed anyone.
So what about this kidnapping? As filmed not necessarily on location in Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Rome, and Calabria, teenager John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer) walking around in Italy without a friend or bodyguard and telling a hooker that “I can take care of myself,” proves himself wrong. He is thrown into a truck, his head covered with a bag, and driven to a remote location. His kidnappers demand 17 million expecting to be negotiated down but are surprised that the grandfather refuses to bargain or speak to the ruffians. A principal theme then becomes the struggle by the boy’s mother Gail (Michelle Williams) to convince her father-in-law to cough up the ransom. The elder man’s refusal becomes the hottest item for the press. While Getty seems rarely to leave his home, Gail is mobbed by the press wherever she goes, the carbinieri cooperating fully with the investigation by listening to phone calls and trying to locate the hideout.
Ultimately the boy is sold, yes, sold like a slave, to an investor willing to pay the original abductors and assuming the risk that he may not get a dime. Becoming desperate, the bad guys slice off the 16-year-old’s ear in a surgical procedure that is shown graphically on the screen amid the boy’s screams. They send the ear to the mother while the press, offering $50,000 for permission to photograph the ear and print the story, hears a counterproposal from Gail in her own desperate attempt to raise the ransom from her father-in-law.
Perhaps the role of the sixteen-year-old is not that demanding (unless they really do slice off the ear), but Michelle Williams as the frantic mom is terrific in the role, far more sophisticated and aggressive than she is in another December blockbuster, “The Greatest Showman.” Romain Duris as Cinquanta, the kidnapper who negotiates by phone with Gail, is a more complex character, one who resists the decision by the gang to do to the boy what Van Gogh did willingly to himself. And Marc Wahlberg as Fletcher Chase, who is the old man’s negotiator pictured while winning favorable terms from Saudi royalty, plays an active role in helping Gail to recover her son.
As they say, though, actors given a choice would love to play the villain, and the chief miscreant is not the kidnappers since, after all, they’re only doing their despicable job. Christopher Plummer, groomed like Getty, made hardly recognizable as the 88-year-old actor takes on the role of Getty’s 84 years, is so miserable, narcissistic, selfish, anti-people, and lacking in anything that might convince an audience member that it’s great to be a billionaire, that we in the audience probably can’t wait until something really really bad happens to him.
The film is loaded with flashbacks to the time that the kidnap victim is about eight years old, walking hand in hand with his grandfather, bonding so strongly with the elder Getty that we’re extra shocked that Getty refuses to negotiate with the kidnappers. The film is a thriller, well crafted, the unvarnished, tough exterior of the kidnappers (except for Cinquanta) searing. This may not be the movie to see if you’re with the young ‘uns on Christmas but for most of us, everything you’d want such a film to be is on the big screen.
Rated R. 132 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – A-
Acting – B+
Technical – B+
Overall – A-