By 1973, American industrialist and oil tycoon J. Paul Getty was not only the richest man alive, but he was the richest man who had ever lived. That year, a group of low-level mafia thugs kidnapped Getty’s grandson, J. Paul Getty III, and demanded a ransom of $17 million. Ever the frugalist, Getty refused to pay, claiming his caving could lead to a rash of kidnappings of his other grandchildren. Eventually the extortionists stooped to torturing the younger Getty, and lowering their financial demands.
This unfortunate episode is the subject of Ridley Scott’s new thriller “All the Money in the World.” But I use the term “thriller” loosely. What could have (and should have) been a taut, crackling spine-chiller plods along drearily like the neighbors showing you their vacation photos. I’m sure they find their pics interesting, but we can’t wait ‘til they’re finished. Same with “All the Money in the World.” By the time this two-hour-plus marathon ended, I barely cared whether the Getty grandson lived or died.
The fact that Ridley Scott directed this bore is the saddest fallout from one of this Oscar season’s worst entries. This is the man responsible for the sci-fi classic “Alien,” and more recently the Matt Damon vehicle “The Martian.” Scott should have been the perfect man to direct the story of the Getty kidnapping. Where did he go wrong?
The elder Getty is portrayed as a cartoonish tightwad by the always affable Christopher Plummer. I don’t know much about Getty, but I’m certain he had some virtuous character traits. Unfortunately, the David Scarpa screenplay allows us to see a grand total of none of those redeeming qualities. Instead we’re subjected to a one-dimensional miser whose money-grabbing instincts are presented as deplorable in the early scenes and downright criminal as the screenplay drudges forth. What man, no matter how rich and powerful, would care for a minute about tax shelters when negotiating a ransom for the release of his own grandson?
One of Michelle Williams’ best performances is wasted as Getty’s daughter-in-law, who flies to Rome to find her son – all the while urging the old man to part with his money so her son can live. Williams plays Gail as a strong-willed, independent woman who refuses to resort to groveling in her attempt to convince Getty to pay the ransom. Charlie Plummer (no relation to Christopher) is the younger Getty, and Mark Wahlberg is Fletcher Chase, the elder Getty’s right-hand man and former CIA operative, who helps Gail and the Italian police locate the younger Getty. His is another fine performance wasted in a thoroughly boring exercise in filmmaking.
French actor Romain Duris plays Cinquanta, the head kidnapper, as a relatively reasonable man who doesn’t necessarily want to harm the younger Getty; he just wants some of the elder Getty’s fortune. At a time when income inequality is greater than at any time since the 1920s, it would seem a logical choice to explore the class-struggle aspect of the story. Instead all of Scott and Sparta’s creative effort seems to be directed at dragging J. Paul Getty’s legacy through the mud. If nothing else, he could be praised for securing business interest in Saudi Arabian oil as far back as the 1940s. Instead, this business victory is glossed over in a scene lasting all of one minute. Perhaps more effort could have been given to understanding the plight of the poor rather than asking us to hate the rich.
Two years ago, I reviewed Danny Boyle’s “Steve Jobs” by writing that if I were to watch a film about the filthy rich, I’d rather see a story about someone who has used his amassed wealth for societal good, like Bill Gates or Warren Buffett. Instead, Boyle gave us a thoroughly unlikeable portrait of a man who walked all over his subordinates and his competitors on his way to the top. Ridley Scott has simply given us more of the same with “All the Money in the World.” Would someone please make a movie about Bill Gates? I might actually enjoy that one.