Movies

A whole new 'World'

Goodbye Kevin Spacey, hello Christopher Plummer in kidnap yarn

It's been said to never let the truth get in the way of a good story. "Inspired by true events," Ridley Scott's "All the Money in the World" tells the true-crime tale of the kidnapping of John Paul Getty's grandson in its broadest strokes and with a sprinkling of accurate details, but at least as much in it is invented or misrepresented. That'd be more easily forgiveable if the film had any subtlety or depth, but this ain't that kind of party: it's a wannabe thriller that unnecessarily stretches its running time right along with the truth.

In 1973, 16-year-old Paul Getty (Charlie Plummer) was snatched by kidnappers and held for a $17 million ransom. Since Getty was the grandson of the multi-billionaire oil tycoon J. P. Getty ("the richest man in the history of the world"), the criminals assumed they'd get their loot and quickly. But the elder Getty (a magnificently mercurial Christopher Plummer) was a mean one, a skeptical skinflint who couldn't be bothered and, more practically, feared emboldening future kidnappers. The kidnapping thusly stretched on for months, as Paul's devoted mother Gail (Michelle Williams) worked behind the scenes to affect the release of her increasingly endangered son.

This much is true, along with a few stranger-than-fiction touches like the petty J.P. Getty referring houseguests to an on-site pay phone should they wish to make a call. But most of the particulars have been reshaped enough that the film not only kicks off with that word "inspired" but also includes a prominent disclaimer right at the top of the end credits (immediately following a few story-wrapping facts). Mark Wahlberg plays a composite character mostly based on a security adviser tasked by the elder Getty with handling the "kidnap matter." Meanwhile, Scott and screenwriter David Scarpa -- working from John Pearson's 1995 book "Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortune and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty" -- interpolate a few elaborate suspense sequences that never occurred in real life.

To the extent that "All the Money in the World" is about anything, it's about how money warps people's humanity. In the film's awkward sole swatch of narration, Paul explains, "It's like we're from another planet...We look like you, but we're not like you. But we were, once." As on-the-outs Gettys, Paul and Gail were broke at the time, so Paul speaks for the heirs' future and more so for his grandfather, who's more or less accurately depicted as a grandiose, isolated, cruel, and paranoid monster with an insatiable hunger for fortune.

The more fascinating story here has unfolded behind the scenes in a plot unprecedented in Hollywood's 100-plus-year history: how the picture was "locked" with Kevin Spacey having portrayed J.P. Getty, how posters and trailers were released into the wild with Spacey on display, how Spacey was accused of being a sexual predator, and how Scott recast Spacey's role with Plummer, re-shot the necessary scenes, and re-edited the picture over a four-week period, in time for Plummer to score a Golden Globe nomination and to meet a Christmas release date. Given that costly effort, I guess these days it's the likes of Sony that has all the money in the world.

— Peter Canavese

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