“Money, money, money…must be funny in a rich man’s world.”
(“Money, Money, Money”, ABBA)
As it turns out Bjorn, Agnetha, Benny and Anni were wrong. Turns out there is NOTHING funny in a rich man’s world. Particularly if the rich man in question is John Paul Getty…the richest man in the world at one point.
Getty was an oil man, a fabulously successful oil man, who despite his enormous wealth (in 1966 he was estimated to have a personal wealth of $1.2 billion – nearly $9 billion in “modern” money) was frugal to the point of being miserly, but more on that in a moment. Work, and the accumulation of “things”, were the most important things in his life…family came a long way behind. He was married five times and had five children. One of those children, the product of his fourth marriage to Ann Rork, was Eugene Paul Getty. Little Eugene didn’t really have a relationship with his father and by the time he was a father himself he also didn’t really have any money. His wife, Abigail Harris, encouraged him to reach out to his father to see if he could find him work within the Getty organisation. Getty senior does indeed give his son a job and the accumulation of wealth has a devastating impact on his life as he discovers the pleasures that can be found in drugs. His decline into addiction leads to his divorce from Harris and that is to bring further devastation to the Getty family.
“All the Money in the World” tells us the strange, nearly unbelievable, tale of the kidnapping of John Paul Getty III by Italian gangsters in July of 1973. Understandably the kidnappers believe that a huge ransom can be theirs and so a huge ransom is what they demand. A little research on their part would have led to them selecting a different billionaires grandson. Getty Snr. was a man who had a public payphone installed in his home for the use of guests, the idea that he would happily give away millions of pounds was, in truth, unlikely. Instead Getty sets about doing everything he can to avoid paying the ransom and seems to be thriving on the negotiations despite the very real prospect of his grandson being murdered.
Ridley Scott brings this story to the big screen with a great deal of style, reminding you why you love him and, very nearly, erasing the memories of both Prometheus and Alien: Covenant. Nearly. He coaxes a career best performance from Mark Wahlberg as, the improbably named, Fletcher Chase, a former CIA agent in the employ of Grandpa Getty as security adviser. He also managed the need to remove Kevin Spacey from the already completed picture following the allegations of sexual impropriety that came out shortly before the films release. His solution was to re-shoot those scenes with Christopher Plummer in the plum role of Getty Snr. Plummer is beyond brilliant and may well find himself with an Oscar nod on the back of this performance. The real standout performance though comes from Michelle Williams as Gail Harris. A woman on the edge, possessed of a steely determination and drive, used to the finer things but no longer able to access them, a mother, a fighter and a formidable force of nature when necessary.
It’s a beautiful film to look at, the contrast between the narrow, insular world of Getty almost trapped inside his mansion and surrounded by the trappings of his wealth is set against the images of his grandson who is genuinely trapped and is surrounded by all of the trappings of poverty in rural Italy are captured brilliantly. That, I think, is the real heart of the story…money and possessions are add-ons to happiness, they are meaningless when you don’t also have the things that really matter to accompany them, things like family, love, friends and purpose.