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Editorial


Front Page - Friday, January 5, 2018

Critic's Corner: Money couldn’t buy Getty’s happiness




“What would you do if you had all the money in the world?” More interesting, perhaps, is “what wouldn’t you do if you had all the money in the world?”

American industrialist J. Paul Getty’s answer to the second question would include ransoming his 16-year-old grandson from kidnappers. Although he didn’t have all the money in the world when this happened in 1973, the $17 million the abductors wanted would have been chump change to him.

Getty’s answer to the second question would also include paying to have his laundry done at a luxury hotel. In a scene from “All the Money in the World,” Getty emerges from his bathroom, where he’s hung several pairs of undergarments to dry, to greet family. “Why pay someone $10 to wash my underwear when I can do it myself?” he asks. (I’m paraphrasing.)

This establishes the irony of Getty’s character. There’s no telling how much that room cost, but darned if he’s paying a dime to have someone wash his undies.

Part of the fun of watching “All the Money” is gasping at Getty’s outrageous, money-pinching behavior. When Getty refuses to pay the ransom, he blithely acts as though he’s saying “no” to super-sizing his combo meal at a fast food restaurant.

The abductors actually ask the boy’s mother, Gail Harris, for the money, not realizing she’s broke. So is her ex-husband, who’s lost to drugs. The only Getty with money is the old man himself, who says he’ll end up having to ransom all 14 of his grandkids if he pays for one.

Desperate to save her son, Harris teams with Getty’s business manager, Fletcher Chase, to either free her son or convince Getty to change his mind before the boy starts coming home in pieces.

Everyone involved with “All the Money” did a workman’s job on the film, which is entertaining and suspenseful enough to merit two hours in a theater.

Working off John Pearson’s 1995 book, “Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty,” screenwriter David Scarpa fashioned a script that’s as fair to Getty as one could be but doesn’t let him off the hook.

Scarpa makes Harris the heart and soul of the narrative, though, and puts some meat on her bones. She’s a good mother who’s strong enough to endure a traumatic situation and clever enough to go toe-to-toe with her former father-in-law without taking a fatal blow. Her only real misstep in life was marrying a Getty.

Scarpa also peppered the screenplay with great lines like, “To be a Getty is an extraordinary thing. 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.”

Finally, Scarpa takes the time to develop a softening relationship between the victim and one of his captors. I liked the glimpse, however small, of the criminal’s humanity, which one could argue was greater than Getty’s.

Director Ridley Scott gave “All the Money” a grayish, overcast look but still captured the opulence of Getty’s domain, where he seems to live alone and looks terribly small as he walked its cavernous passages. In contrast, Scott sets the rest of the movie in the dirt in which the rest of us wallow.

Scott (“Alien,” “Blade Runner”) has always been a visual director. He likes beautiful imagery as well as the efficiency with which an image can tell the story or define a character. That trait is on display throughout “All the Money,” which contains shots that are both pleasing to the eye and telling.

My favorite image shows Getty and a younger version of his grandson emerging from a tunnel into snowfall, where they find the ruins of a Roman emperor’s palace. Getty believes (or at least says he believes) that he’s the reincarnation of the emperor. The crumbling ruins are a nice bit of foreshadowing on Scott’s part.

Perhaps the best thing about “All the Money” is the part of it that bubbled out of the behind-the-scenes drama.

Scott originally wanted Christopher Plummer (“The Sound of Music”) for the role of Getty, but the studio insisted on Kevin Spacey playing the part. After work on the film was complete, and with less than two months until it was scheduled to be released, Spacey’s name was suddenly mud in Hollywood.

As one person after another accused Spacey of sexual assault, Scott removed the actor from the film and reshot his scenes with Plummer. It took the director nine days and $10 million to do it, but he pulled it off.

More to the point, Plummer pulled off a terrific performance. While he comes across as a kindly grandfather in early scenes, he eventually settles in and becomes the cold, calculating man who offered to loan his son the ransom money – with interest – up to the amount that was tax deductible.

Watching the 88-year-old Plummer shine like that under challenging conditions inspires awe. With the help of his fellow actors, who returned to reshoot scenes with him, he became the one great thing in a merely good movie.

If I had all the money in the world, I’d pay him to watch this film with me.