PLOT When his grandson is kidnapped, billionaire J. Paul Getty decides not to pay the ransom.
CAST Michelle Williams, Christopher Plummer, Mark Wahlberg
RATED R (adult themes and some graphic bloodshed)
BOTTOM LINE A ripping-good crime thriller with undercurrents of darkness. A-plus performances from Williams and Plummer.
In the opening moments of Ridley Scott’s riveting new movie “All the Money in the World,” a 16-year-old boy strolls the streets of Rome without a care in the world. Shortly after he is yanked off the street by kidnappers, he tells us in a somewhat sheepish voice-over that he is John Paul Getty III, grandson of the staggeringly wealthy oil tycoon.
“Maybe you can forgive us,” young Paul says of himself, and of all the Gettys. “We look like you. But we’re not like you.”
That twist on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous quote about the rich echoes throughout this utterly gripping tale of money, people and material goods. The kidnapping of young Paul (Charlie Plummer) in 1973 made headlines, but what really shocked the world was that J. Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer) refused to pay the ransom despite pleas from the boy’s mother, Gail Harris (Michelle Williams). The nexus between human life and cold calculation — and, perhaps, some unarticulated principle known only to a man like Getty — makes for an absolutely enthralling story. With the pulsing rhythm of an action thriller and the dank core of a classic film noir, “All the Money in the World” is terrific entertainment that packs a philosophical punch.
Scott is so widely admired for his bravura visuals in such movies as “Blade Runner” and “The Martian” that this performance-driven film comes as a surprise. (It’s easy to forget Scott directed “Thelma & Louise.”) Williams is flat-out terrific as Gail, a mother keeping herself together one moment at a time; Mark Wahlberg brings a clipped intensity to Fletcher Chase, a Getty-employed fixer who waffles between morality and his paycheck; and Charlie Plummer (no relation to Christopher) is perfect as Paul, whose big blue eyes were never meant to see the worst of humanity. (David Scarpa wrote the excellent screenplay from John Pearson’s book “Painfully Rich.”)
Hovering over this movie is the absence of Kevin Spacey, who originally played Getty but, in the wake of a sexual assault accusation, was excised from the film and replaced by Christopher Plummer. (Reshoots required a reported $10 million and 400 shots over nine days.) All of which makes Plummer’s deep-digging performance as Getty — so affable, yet so chillingly detached — even more impressive. Despite that quick fix and a late-season release date, “All the Money in the World” is easily one of the best movies of the year.