You have to admire Ridley Scott. At eighty years old, he seems to have levels of energy and commitment that would put younger directors to shame. Having emerged from the disappointment that was Alien Covenant, he threw himself headlong into his next project, the stranger than fiction tale of the abduction of Paul Getty III, nephew of multi-millionaire J Paul Getty. The film was in post-production when the allegations about Kevin Spacey (who was playing J Paul Getty) emerged, and Scott went to the unprecedented lengths of reshooting all of his scenes with a new actor, Christopher Plummer. The fact that Plummer is now being talked up for Oscar nominations speaks volumes about how successfully he has been assimilated into the final product.
It’s 1976 and sixteen year old Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer) is wandering around Rome, enjoying life, when he is unceremoniously bundled into a van and driven to a remote location in the wilds of Italy. His mother, Gail (Michelle Williams in her latest onscreen transformation), receives a phone call saying that the kidnappers are demanding a ransom of seventeen million dollars and that Gail should approach her father-in-law for the money.
But there’s a problem. J Paul Getty isn’t your usual sort of millionaire. He may be the richest man in history but he still launders his own underwear when he stays in hotels and has even had a coin-operated red telephone box installed in his British mansion for whenever guests wish to use the phone. He outright refuses to pay the ransom and brings in Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg) to handle negotiations with the kidnappers. As time slips by, Paul’s situation begins to look more and more precarious… and it’s only a matter of time before blood is shed.
Screenwriters David Scarpa and John Pearson have crafted a sprawling, but fascinating story, with details so weird that they really couldn’t pass for fiction. Okay, so some elements have been tweaked for the sake of building suspense – the conclusion of the case was certainly not as nail-bitingly dramatic as it’s portrayed here and occasiona liberties have been taken with the chronology of the story – but it all makes for a compelling narrative and, naturally, Scott makes every frame look gorgeous. Michelle Williams seems to completely reinvent herself from film to film and Plummer is good enough to make you stop caring what sort of a job Spacey might have made of so meaty a role.
Ironically of course, the reshoots have helped to bring this film to wider public attention and, judging by the packed afternoon screening we’re attending, All the Money in the World is destined to do a lot better than its predecessor. It absolutely deserves to.