All the Money in the World

Scrutinizing J. Paul Getty's avarice with a cold-eyed clarity when his grandson gets his ear chopped off by Italian kidnappers.

When John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer) was 17 years old and living in Rome, Italian kidnappers cut off his right ear. Ridley Scott zooms in on the boy’s bleeding orifice as he screams and writhes on a makeshift operating table. Getty’s abductors confined him in chains and holding cells in 1973 for nearly six months. His grandfather, the oil baron and art aficionado J. Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer), initially wouldn’t pay the $17 million ransom. All the Money in the World scrutinizes the Getty patriarch’s avarice with a cold-eyed clarity. But the younger Getty’s later drug addiction, paralysis, and death at the age of 54 are left off-screen. The traumatic after-effects of his kidnapping go unexplored.

Instead, Scott focuses on Getty’s anguished mother, Gail (Michelle Williams), as she jousts with the press, foul-tempered criminals, and her ex-father-in-law’s mind games. The director of A Good Year and Roxy Music’s sumptuous “Avalon” video breathes more life into inanimate objets d’art than he does with Mark Wahlberg’s inexpressive performance. As a former CIA agent, his character accomplishes nothing to secure Paul’s release — apart from fiddling with his era-appropriate eyeglasses. The studio producers who cast him for his marquee value also sacrificed any sense of verisimilitude when he’s in the frame. Scott exorcised Kevin Spacey from the final cut. The film would have been much improved with one more digitally enhanced erasure.

Rated R. 
Now playing at AMC Van Ness.

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