All The Money In the World (15)

RIDLEY Scott’s new drama has become as noteworthy for its production history as for the real-life story on which it’s based – and given that the subject is one of the most infamous kidnappings in history, that’s saying something.

This is the film that was virtually complete, with Kevin Spacey playing the late billionaire J Paul Getty, before allegations of sexual misconduct stopped the actor’s career in its tracks. Weeks before it was due to be released, Scott and his producers announced that Spacey’s scenes were to be re-shot with the veteran Christopher Plummer replacing him in the role.

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That commendable, and quite unprecedented response to the scandal was made at the start of November. The fact that the film is already in cinemas is astonishing. Scott, actress Michelle Williams and, ironically, Plummer have all been nominated for prestigious Golden Globe awards. One can only guess how Spacey must be feeling.

Adapted from John Pearson’s book Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortune And Misfortunes Of The Heirs Of J Paul Getty, the film focuses on the kidnapping of Getty’s teenage grandson Paul, by Italian gangsters in 1973, and the protracted efforts of his mother to negotiate his release – with no help from the man whose wealth had got the boy abducted in the first place.

Scriptwriter David Scarpa has taken a fair bit of biographical licence, but there’s nothing fudged about the response of the world’s then richest man to the $17 million ransom demand – he would pay nothing. Plummer now voices his infamous comment to the press: “I have 14 other grandchildren and if I pay one penny now I’ll have 14 kidnapped grandchildren.”

This was widely perceived, not as a tactical calculation, but as symptomatic of a notorious skinflint’s pathological fear of parting with his cash. From this, Scarpa has forged a queasy, sometimes blackly comic morality tale about the corrupting nature of money, throwing in a portrait of a twistedly dysfunctional family for added value. In fact, if the film were to have a subheading, it would be Money Can’t Buy You Love.

After opening with the boy’s kidnap in Rome, Scarpa and Scott offer a series of character-establishing flashbacks, which include the messy divorce between Getty’s drug-addled son and the intelligent, independent Gail Harris (Williams) that led her to reject any claim to the family’s cash in return for undisturbed custody of her children – which unfortunately will leave her helpless when the kidnappers come calling.

All of this paves the way for a battle of wits on different fronts – between Gail and the kidnappers, Gail and Getty, and between the kidnappers themselves, who have different ideas of how to up the ante. Moving amongst them is Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg), Getty’s head of security and all-purpose fixer, sent as the old man’s proxy but who eventually warms towards the mother’s plight.

Despite its story, the film itself is solid rather than remarkable. As one would expect of Scott, it’s beautifully crafted, well acted, with a no-nonsense style that never risks dropping the ball. That it doesn’t quite have the wow factor may be down to the fact that his approach generally leans towards cold efficiency rather than emotion. And of course many will know the outcome before entering the cinema.

But both Williams and Plummer give career-high performances – she riveting as a woman driven to save her son, dynamic and unstoppable, but whose constantly pursed lips reveal the despair and frustration that she’s struggling to contain; he a ferocious, sometimes horribly funny embodiment of greed and obsession, a monster as much trapped as empowered by a wealth that is impossible to imagine.