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All the Money in the World review – raucous crime thriller banishes ghost of Kevin Spacey

‘Glittery-eyed grandfatherly mischief’ ... Christopher Plummer in All the Money in the World.
‘Glittery-eyed grandfatherly mischief’ ... Christopher Plummer in All the Money in the World. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

‘The rich are different from you and me,” said F Scott Fitzgerald, to which Ernest Hemingway is famously alleged to have replied: “Yes, they have more money.” This film suggests they also have more fear of their own children – fear that they will parasitically suck away energy that should be devoted to building up riches and status; that they will fail to be worthy inheritors of it, or waste it, or cause it to be catastrophically mortgaged to their own pampered weakness. This fear is the driving force of Ridley Scott’s raucous pedal-to-the-metal thriller about the ageing and super-rich oil tycoon J Paul Getty, freely adapted by screenwriter David Scarpa from the 1995 page-turner Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortune and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J Paul Getty by veteran true-crime author John Pearson. It is directed by the 80-year-old Ridley Scott with gleeful energy and riotous attack. The old guy is always the most interesting character on screen, and that can hardly be an accident.

In 1973, cantankerous Getty refused to pay the kidnap ransom demanded after his 16-year-old grandson John Paul Getty III was snatched by Calabrian mobsters from the streets of Rome. And why? Because he didn’t want to set a precedent and reward crime? Because he suspected this wastrel boy had cooked up a scheme to scam him? Or because, in his wizened and ornery old apology for a heart, he just didn’t feel like parting with a single dime? Only when a severed ear arrives through the post does the old boy feel like getting out his chequebook.

Christopher Plummer won a footnote in the history of the #MeToo campaign when Scott, disgusted by the allegations made against Kevin Spacey, removed Spacey from the role of Getty and replaced him with Plummer for last-second reshoots. Yet Plummer doesn’t look like a hasty replacement. He relishes and luxuriates in the role. It fits him perfectly. Getty is exactly right for Plummer’s talent for subversive glittery-eyed grandfatherly mischief, cut with a dash of misanthropic malice.

If I’d had to guess which cast member had been ’coptered into the film at short notice, I would have said Mark Wahlberg, who is Chase, Getty’s CIA-trained bodyguard and special ops guy. Everyone else is strenuously acting a role in period 1973 costume, accent and style. Wahlberg rocks up in a 2017 Kingsman suit and big glasses and more or less does his standard Boston cop-firefighter-regular-guy routine. Wahlberg’s non-acting acting is usually a plus. In this studied context, it’s a flaw.

For the purposes of showbusiness entertainment, this film hugely exaggerates the drink- and drug-related debility of Getty’s son John Paul II (Andrew Buchan) and ramps up the heroic importance of John Paul II’s ex-wife Gail, the victim’s mother, played with a kind of Katharine-Hepburn-lite accent by Michelle Williams. Gail earlier got custody of Getty’s grandkids in divorce proceedings, and the film cleverly hints that this was already a kind of kidnapping for the glowering old patriarch. And here it is Gail who must battle for the release of her son, in the face of the kidnappers’ ruthlessness and that of her former father-in-law. John Paul III is played by Charlie Plummer (no relation to Christopher). Romain Duris is a little wasted on the role of “Cinquanta”, the kidnapper hoodlum who begins to have protective feelings for the poor, moon-faced, hippy rich kid who must shortly undergo an ear-reduction process.

Political and non-political kidnappings are a grisly part of 70s history. One year after the teenage Getty was abducted, the same thing happened to publishing heiress Patty Hearst, who was Stockholm-syndromed into supporting her captors’ revolutionary views. All The Money in the World suggests that teenage Getty might himself have flirted with those on the edges of the Red Brigades. The market forces that turn wealthy heirs and heiresses into potential kidnap victims are emblematic of an awful paradox: ruthlessness is rewarded with money, every penny of which is at risk in this zero-sum game. And the kidnap could itself be a morality play for the radical generation abandoning the capitalist ethic of their forefathers under ideological duress.

All The Money in the World is not perfect; there is a touch of naivety and stereotyping in its depiction of the malign Italians with their one, redemptive nice-guy gangster. But with the help of Plummer’s tremendous villain-autocrat performance, Ridley Scott gives us a very entertaining parable about money and what it can’t buy.

This article titled "All the Money in the World review – raucous crime thriller banishes ghost of Kevin Spacey" was written by Peter Bradshaw, for The Guardian on Tuesday 19 December 2017 05.00pm

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