All the Money in the Matchbox

Do you know the phrase, “We don’t negotiate with terrorists”? It’s noble, but maybe a little tough to swallow, especially if terrorists have kidnapped your son and there’s nothing in the bank to negotiate with. It gets even harder when an estranged relative does have negotiating power but is doing his best to wait for the situation to go away. He’s a regular Scrooge McDuck. Some people love money more than family, even if they try to convince the world that blood is a top priority. It could be that family is only on the radar at all because one day they will inherit the wealth. Maybe that’s why Scrooge McDuck let Huey, Dewey, and Louie swim in his cash pool.

It’s the 1970s. The paparazzi are adrenaline junkies, Italy has reliable telephone service, and J. Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer) is the richest man in the history of being rich. He is surrounded by art, real estate, employees, and thingamabobs. The only noticeable absence is family. Getty may hold his inanimate possessions with an iron grip but his daughter-in-law, Gail (Michelle Williams), has full custody of his grandchildren. Gail, as all evidence suggests, is a responsible, reasonable mother with a great haircut; she’s just a little short on cash. Gail happily severs all contact with the Gettys after her divorce, choosing a simple family life over grovelling for spare change. This life works well for Gail’s family, until her son, Paul (Charlie Plummer), is kidnapped in Rome. The kidnappers demand $17,000,000 for Paul’s release and strongly recommend that his grandfather, Mr. Getty, pay the bill. Before Gail can even ask, Getty gives a public and emphatic “No”. Thus, the negotiations begin. Preferring to bring his grandson home alive at a more reasonable price, Getty sends his chief negotiator and former CIA agent, Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg), to make a deal. Fletcher Chase – the man who sounds like a chief negotiator and former CIA agent – holds Gail’s hand as he tries to figure out if this kidnapping is a hoax or if Paul has been taken for real. Either way, Getty is happy to wait for the best bargain to open up while his grandson sits in a dank cell. All the Money in the World is like watching a spirited Italian bargain with a brick wall.

He really is a heartless old bastard. Getty leads you to believe that he has a soul and is about to do the right thing, before turning around and buying a masterpiece for his collection. All the Money in the World sets up scenes that evoke sympathy for this lonely old toad in his cold, dark castle, but then he does something so ridiculously frugal that even Ebenezer Scrooge would flinch. This man earns millions every day and then makes Gail use an in-house payphone because long-distance charges are so expensive. What a wart. His good-natured, patient, flower child grandson is rotting away in a cave and Getty’s strategy is to wait until the kidnappers get tired and give him up for free. Either that, or figure out how to spin the ransom as a tax deduction. Meanwhile there’s an oil crisis and Getty’s business has never been more profitable.

On the other side of the fourth wall, at least we can confirm that Christopher Plummer is a professional and a miracle. The veteran actor was brought in as a last minute casting change and, according to Vanity Fair, had 10 days to learn and shoot his scenes. Knowing this going in, I thought Plummer’s role in All the Money in the World would be small, like Meryl Streep in Suffragettes. It’s definitely not. Plummer is easily in half of the movie and carries a significant share of the story. The casting change was last-minute but seamless, with Getty as the cornerstone to this unbelievable story.

We hate Getty even more because of how unnaturally cold he is towards Gail. Michelle Williams plays a desperate mother with no obvious source of income, no obvious baby-sitter for her un-kidnapped kids, and a Jackie Kennedy look that the paparazzi just adore. Gail’s only hope of rescuing her son is Getty’s bank account, and she does whatever it takes to convince him to pay the ransom, but nothing works. Gail is stuck between the useless Italian police department and a rich old fart who communicates via telegram while sweet Paul is God knows where. Thankfully she has Fletcher for support. Fletcher is an interesting character who starts in one place and ends up in another. Successful and believable character development is my absolute favourite story-telling device. All the time Fletcher spends bouncing between Rome and England pushes him into a new state of mind. I was on the fence about Mark Wahlberg to begin with, but he finds a balance between ruthless 
businessman, ex-special agent, and last-minute babysitter.

To be honest, I wasn’t all that excited for All the Money in the World, and I found it a little hard to stay focused during the first half hour. It takes a little heave to get things rolling, but after the characters settle in and a quick scene with a little maiming, I was sucked right in. All the Money in the World is carried less by plot and more by a strong lead cast with an equally convincing supporting cast, specifically the Italian kidnapper #5 (Romain Duris), Cinquanta. All the Money in the World may fly under your radar, but it’s an interesting script study with solid performances. It sneaks in at an 8.5/10.

“You have to be willing to walk away.”