Photos | Giles Keyte
The intense Ridley Scott drama “All the Money in the World” does not just draw on a true story for its plot. The making of the film ended up becoming a drama when Christopher Plummer had to be cast to replace disgraced star Kevin Spacey, after his filming was finished. It is impossible to imagine anyone but the magisterial Plummer as icy oil billionaire John Paul Getty, who cares more about money and art than his family, by a pretty substantial margin.
His family loyalty is put to a harrowing test when his grandson, John Paul Getty III, is kidnapped in Rome. Flashbacks to the grandson’s childhood show a charming, useless father who has no contact, financial or otherwise, with his own famously wealthy father. Their desperate, resourceful mother, Gail (Michelle Williams), reaches out to Getty Sr. when the family is broke, and soon the whole clan is in Rome to meet the elusive captain of industry.
Fast forward to 1973, when the unfortunate third John Paul Getty, a charmingly dissolute young man strolling through Rome, is tossed into a van and held captive by a group of masked men who assume the grandson of the wealthiest man of all time will quickly yield the demanded ransom. But their brutality is nothing compared to that of Getty himself, who claims to love Paul but refuses to part with the cash, blames his grandson for getting kidnapped, and is only too happy to buy into the theory that the grandson and his mother orchestrated the whole thing to soak him, conveniently absolving the old geezer of responsibility.
The chief architect of the self-kidnapping theory is Fletcher Chase (portrayed by Mark Wahlberg; more on this guy later), a trusted adviser who frequently makes deals for Getty. Eventually, he comes to believe that Paul is truly in danger, and works with Gail to free him. Meanwhile, the kidnapper Cinquanta, played by a very compelling French actor named Romain Duris, comes to sympathize with Paul and frequently voices his criticism of the cold-hearted billionaire who won’t rescue the suffering teenager.
“All the Money in the World” is beautifully shot and almost painfully intense. Plummer is masterful, and Michelle Williams is as wonderful as ever in the role of a woman who must face kidnappers, criminals and the richest, most selfish man on earth to save her son’s life. She is strong but not “flinty,” and Williams is simply one of the best actresses working today — which is what makes the plot twist of the real story of filming the movie so enraging.
At the eleventh hour, after all filming with Spacey was completed, director Ridley Scott decided to reshoot the role with Plummer in only nine days. For this Herculean effort, everyone had to pitch in to save the film, including, of course, Michelle Williams and Mark Wahlberg. For these efforts, Williams accepted the minimum scale she could be paid in order to save the film they’d worked so hard to create, which came to $1,000.
Wahlberg, on the other hand, demanded and received, well, all the money in the world: $1.5 million, compared to $1,000. He eventually donated the amount after the heinous discrepancy came to light, but I really don’t think he negotiated that amount initially with the goal of donating it to the MeToo legal defense fund.
All of these true stories certainly amount to a compelling and memorable onscreen drama, and I cannot imagine Spacey in the role, particularly his age, compared to Plummer. We will never know how that would have worked, but the eventual result is riveting, harrowing, fascinating and always cinematically gorgeous.
“All the Money in the World” is currently available to rent.