Little Jack Horner may have sat in a corner eating his Christmas pie, but Ridley Scott didn’t sit in a corner and, in what is likely to be a historic moment in film, pulled out a Plummer to get two in his movie: Charlie Plummer who was in from the start and Christopher Plummer who replaced Kevin Spacey a month before the movie opened. “All the Money in the World” doesn’t show any signs of suffering from the sudden change and the movie received three Golden Globe nominations: Best Director, Best Actress — Drama (Michelle Williams) and Best Supporting Actor (Christopher Plummer). There are no awards for last-minute recasting and reshooting. If there were, Scott would surely deserve it.
The movie is based on John Pearson’s 1995 book “Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty.” Just the title should give you an idea that things do not end well although the movie itself stops short of the eventual tragedy of John Paul Getty III.
J. Paul Getty (1892-1976) was an American industrialist born in Minneapolis, Minnesota but he died in Surrey, England but is buried in Los Angeles County at the Getty Villa. He was married five times. The first time in 1923. The last time in 1939 (divorced in 1958). He studies at USC and then UCB so there’s a California connection before the museums. He had a son with his first wife: George Franklin Getty II (1924-1973). One son with his third wife, Jean Ronald Getty. He had two sons with fourth wife: Eugene Paul Getty who became J. Paul Getty II (1932-2003) and Gordon Peter Getty who lives in Los Angeles. With his last wife, he Timothy Ware Getty (1946-1958).
On 10 July 1973, the 16-year-old J. Paul Getty III was kidnaped in Rome. According to the New York Post, he was known as “Paul” and dubbed the “Golden Hippy” by the local media. He was supposed to be pursuing a career as a painter, but he was best known for partying and nude modeling. The movie shows a careless slender man, J. Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer, not related to Christopher), slumming it and chatting casually with local prostitutes. Soon after, he’s accosted and bundled into a van and taken away.
In a voice over, J. Paul III tries to explain, “To be a Getty is an extraordinary thing. My grandfather wasn’t just the richest man in the world, he was the richest man in the history of the world. We look like you, but we’re not like you. It’s like we’re from another planet where the force of gravity is so strong it bends the light. It bends people too.”
Through flashbacks, we will learn how J. Paul III ended up in Italy and how his father barely knew his father J. Paul Senior, was given a top position in Italy (head of Getty Oil Italiana). By 1973, J. Paul Senior was unmarried (divorced from his last wife, Louise Dudley Lynch since 1958). J. Paul Senior have divorced J. Paul Junior’s mother in 1936, four years after John Junior was born and two years after Gordon Peter was born. By 1939, John Senior had married his fifth and last wife.
The movie takes the viewpoint of J. Paul Junior’s first wife, Abigail “Gail” Harris (Michelle Williams). We soon realize that J. Paul Junior was more interested in drugs than in running his father’s company. Gail divorces J. Paul Junior in 1960s. By 1973, J. Paul Junior had moved back to England. His second wife, Talitha Pol, a Dutch model, had already died of a heroin overdose.
The kidnappers demand $17 million dollars. Gail tells the kidnapper, Cinquanta, “I don’t have any money!” but it told, “Get it from your father-in-law. He has all the money in the world.”
Neither J. Paul Junior nor Gail have the money. John Junior is portrayed as a ruined man, unable to confront his father about the kidnapping. In addition, Paul had previously joked about staging his own kidnapping. The movie brings this up with Fletcher Chase (Mark Sahlberg), J. Paul Senior’s advisor, uncovering that information and relaying it to J. Paul Senior. Believing the kidnapping a hoax, Fletcher advises against paying the ransom and J. Paul Senior tells the media, “I don’t believe in paying kidnappers. I have 14 other grandchildren and if I pay one penny now, then I’ll have 14 kidnapped grandchildren.”
The kidnappers are stunned and, here, portrayed as stupid. Paul is kept in a cave and allowed to see their faces as the months drag on. Another crew comes in, headed by a man with a colder heart, Mammoliti (Marco Leonardi). Under his leadership, Paul is fed steak and then, without anesthesia, has his ear cut off. But fate or bad luck intervenes. Due to a postal strike, the ear is not delivered to the addressee, an Italian newspaper, until three weeks have passed. Fletcher changes his mind but J. Paul Senior still won’t pay full price and has his eyes on tax deductions and control of this set of grandchildren.
The movie’s script decisively shows Paul as having no complicity in the kidnapping, but an unfortunate victim caught between the determination of two men–his grandfather and the mafia. Even in his release, he’s hunted down but saved by his mother and Fletcher.
Christopher Plummer is now 88, older than Getty senior when he died at 83. Ridley Scott is 80. Plummer and Scott should inspire us all because they’ve shown that even octogenarians can do the seemingly impossible and produce a quality product. The Hollywood Reporter published a claim that Plummer, not Spacey, was Scott’s first choice for the role of the senior Getty. At least for this holiday season, we can forget Plummer as the romantic Baron von Trapp and he’s both Scrooge (by far the best thing about “The Man Who Invented Christmas) and the Scrooge-ish senior Getty.
Christopher Plummer’s mellifluous voice haunts every part of “All the Money in the World.” His love is preserved for things that will not disappoint him: Objects of art that he collects. The contrast between the warmth of Christopher Plummer’s voice and the coldness of his manner adds to the poignancy of this version of J. Paul Senior. In “All the Money in the World, Senior dies alone, enraptured by a painting that one hopes is real, but doubt has been created because we know it can never be shown in public due to ownership disputes.
That is poetic justice and the script allows Gail to be the eventual hero–the persevering mother. But J. Paul Senior lived until 6 June 1976 and Paul was released in 15 December 1973. J. Paul Junior didn’t disappear; he made contributions to the British National Museum and was well thought of enough to be knighted, eventually giving up his citizenship which allowed him to style himself as Sir J. Paul Getty II.
You’d think that the family of the kidnappers might want to keep a low profile, but in a recent article in Variety, the nephew of Saro Mammoliti, actor Michael Mammoliti, expressed anger and frusration at the movie’s portrayal of the kidnappers. There is another book that put forth a claim that Paul planned it all, but by the time of publication Paul and the author were both dead.
Who should you believe? Certainly Paul didn’t willingly have his ear cut off. Someone else made that decision. Both he and his father had drug-related problems. The kidnapping was big news and most of the money was never recovered and, it seems, Paul never recovered either.
“All the Money in the World” attempts to wrap this up into a neater, clearer package where a determined mother takes on an empire to save her son. Likewise, Scott was determined to prevent the clarity of this movie’s message from being mired by allegations against Spacey and like a determined parent, he delivered and Christopher Plummer rose to the occasion with a performance that holds the movie together.