Review: 'All the Money in the World'

This dramatized version of the Getty kidnapping is lackluster
Dry and implausible, 'All the Money in the World' replays the Getty kidnapping.

The 1973 J. Paul Getty III kidnapping is a chilling story that left its imprint on late-20th century cinema: the single grisliest detail was borrowed for everything from Blue Velvet to Reservoir Dogs. It's been said that a filmmaker always needs to think of something to put on the poster, and one bit of ad art for All the Money in the World had a severed ear on it—the catalyzing detail in this story of lawless Italy. In Reservoir Dogs QT swerved the camera away from the ear-trimming scene; here in All the Money Ridley Scott spares us nothing.

John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer) was the grandson of the world's richest man, tripping through what's left of the La Dolce Vita scene in shapeless hippie clothes. He was stuffed into a VW van by bumbling Calabrian kidnappers, who demand a $17 million ransom. The elder Getty (Christopher Plummer, notedly a last-minute replacement for the disgraced Kevin Spacey) refuses to pay up. According to this version, the billionaire Getty had both defensible and indefensible motives for the miserliness. Getty the elder had 17 grandchildren, all of whom might turn up kidnapped later if the criminals prospered. Less defensible: only the first million dollars of paid ransom is tax deductible.

It's surprising how toast-dry this story of decadence and crime is. One problem is the difference between the plausible fictionalizations and the implausible ones, including an entire ending chase sequence that's obviously concocted, as well as comeuppance to the plutocrat cheapskate. (Plummer lets us take it on faith that Getty was a self-made man, though like Trump, the elder Getty inherited a small fortune which sped him on his way.) As Paul's grieving mother, Gail, Michelle Williams is a feisty blank seemingly from nowhere, a character there to demonstrate Williams's ability to go full Pieta in five seconds. Despite his one exciting near-escape from captivity using fire, Charlie Plummer isn't much more interesting playing the imprisoned victim.

Pauline Kael had a prejudice that there never had been a really great movie about kidnapping—Kurosawa's High and Low being the exception that proves the rule. All the Money in the World is a poor movie, and all it needed was a bad main performance to sink it. As Getty's ex-CIA security chief, Chase, Mark Wahlberg does the trick.

All the Money in the World
R; 132 Mins.

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