The politically charged early 1970s was a fevered time of skyjackings, assorted terrorist attacks and high-profile kidnappings. One of the latter — particularly shocking at the time, and now lost to faded tabloid clippings — was the 1973 abduction in Rome of Paul Getty, an episode recounted in Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World.
Sixteen-year-old Paul Getty (Charlie Plummer) is the grandson of oil tycoon John Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer, no relation), one of the world’s richest men. Successful in business, he isn’t very good at family, or at sharing the wealth — he famously had a payphone installed in his 72-room, art-filled British mansion. And when young Paul’s kidnappers demand $17 million in ransom, Getty says no.
Getty, a renowned deal-maker, elucidated that “everything has a price” and that one’s mettle was to know and stand by that measure. The price for Paul is set too high, and Getty dispatches his security man, Chase (Mark Wahlberg), to negotiate a better deal — a release “as quickly and inexpensively as possible.” Thus Chase joins Paul’s determined mother (Michelle Williams) in a protracted battle with the kidnappers, the police and the media, all while Paul languishes.
It’s a fascinating account, solidly delivered by Scott, who mixes thriller with family melodrama and no shortage of revulsion toward men such as Getty. They are masters of the universe who are, in other aspects, tiny soulless cut-outs of human beings. If at times, the dialogue about the corrupting nature of money is too on-the-nose, well, some truths can never be repeated enough and too plainly. While Getty was perhaps unique in his explicit choice of money over a child, a viewer is free to extrapolate to other current accounts of money vs. people.
And speaking of current events, All the Money had a flutter of early press when Getty’s original portrayer, actor Kevin Spacey, facing accusations of sexual harassment, was edited out of the film only a few weeks ago. Scott recruited Plummer for last-minute reshoots, and his turn as the quite horrible yet quite believable elder Getty is one of the film’s pleasures.