‘All the Money in the World’ Offers a Fascinating Glimpse Into Life of the Elite

Two years after the release of his award-winning “comedy” “The Martian,” director Ridley Scott gets a bit more serious with his kidnapping drama “All the Money in the World.” The film details the real-life 1972 ransom case of J. Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer), the grandson of oil tycoon J. Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer). Here, Scott has not only created a taut thriller in which a young man’s life is at stake, but also a fascinating glimpse into the mind of the kind of man who famously threw down millions of dollars for works of arts, yet couldn’t bear to part with the $17 million demanded by his grandson’s kidnappers.

The viewer is sucked in right out of the gate here, as the young Getty, Paul, or Paulo, is snatched off a Roman street in the dead of the night almost immediately. A voice over monologue from teen explains how his family is special, however, a flashback to nearly a decade earlier reveals that he and his siblings begun life rather humbly, as his father, J. Paul Getty II (Andrew Buchan), was largely ignored by his grandfather. After hitting a rough patch, it is Junior’s sensible wife, Gail (Michelle Williams), who suggests that he write to his dad, a letter that leads to a job offer in Rome. There, the elder Getty quickly takes to his grandson, who is eager to be of use. His father, however, loses himself to booze and drugs, and in just a few years his marriage is broken down irretrievably. Always one to put family first, Gail, who never quite felt at ease in this world, turns down any financial settlement in exchange for custody of her children. Unfortunately, even her motherly devotion and attempts to anchor her kids to the real world can’t save her son from the clutches of those who want a piece of her former father-in-law’s wealth.

Despite his affection for his grandson, Getty, who was so notoriously cheap that he did his own laundry in hotel bathrooms rather than send out for his, chillingly tells reporters that he isn’t willing to pay a cent for the kid’s safe return, reasoning that he has 14 grandchildren, and if he gives in this time, he’d eventually have to pay 13 more ransoms. Fair enough, although this hardly gives any peace of mind to the boy’s poor mother, who has little money of her own and finds herself at the mercy of others (her ex-husband is absent for much of this, presumably being off somewhere in a drug-induced haze). Getty does send his right-hand man, a former CIA operative, the aptly-named Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg), to help out with this pesky problem. While Gail has had uneasy feelings about the old man from the start, Fletcher has held him in high esteem, and through his eyes we slowly see Getty for who he truly is, a paranoid, miserly man who has gotten much of what he has by acting exclusively in his own best interest with little regard for others.

“All the Money in the World” is perhaps the most buzzed about film of this holiday season, in no small part due to the eleventh-hour casting of Christopher Plummer, who stepped into the role a mere six weeks before release, replacing Kevin Spacey following sexual harassment allegations. While there are brief snippets of Spacey’s performance from the original trailer available, it’s hard to imagine anyone else topping Plummer here, as he is the perfect mix of benevolent patriarch and ruthless curmudgeon. However, the performance of the film is really that of Williams, as she is excellent as Gail struggles to remain composed in the face of such a trial, eventually proving herself a worthy match to her former father-in-law. The performance of Charlie Plummer (no relationship to his onscreen gramps) is also worth mentioning, as the scenes with him and his kidnappers are filled to the brim with tension and suspense.

All the Money in the World” opens Dec. 25 in theaters nationwide.