All The Money In The World, directed by Ridley Scott, has both the benefit of concision, relatively speaking, and suffers from it as well. The kidnapping of JPG III forms the spine of the drama, while subplots concerning his possible complicity in the crime, the Italian Mafia, his grandfather’s unrepentant stinginess (even when his own flesh and blood is concerned), the dysfunctionality of the Getty brood, JPG III’s mom and her unwavering commitment to freeing her son, and other elements are squeezed into the 90 minutes or so that make up the film. Christopher Plummer plays the tight-fisted patriarch, as a replacement (!) for the Kevin Spacey. Its hard to image casting Spacey over Plummer – he even has something of a resemblance to J Paul Sr., and Plummer’s take on the domineering, callous industrial baron deserved better than a mere Academy Award nomination. Plummer’s long illustrious career gives him a kind of gravitas on screen that can’t be learned, only earned. Michelle Williams is excellent as JPGIII’s mom, divorced from JPGII, but the headscratcher among the actors is Mark Wahlberg as Getty senior’s fixer.
Wahlberg, I find, is one of the most vanilla actors out there. A lot of sound and fury often, signifying well you know what, he just never seems to bring much to the table. Like Tom Cruise and other H-wood actors, he is better known for who he is than what he does. So its curious in flipping through Rotten Tomatoes reviews that one reviewer from the Hindustan Times, Rohan Nahar, gives kudos to Wahlberg while giving a thumbs down to Brendan Frazer in the same role in Trust. Now let me preface this by saying that I chose this critic somewhat randomly. I was flipping through the reviews, saw one that was somewhat negative, so then checked it out. I found it interesting, but also revealed a critic somewhat out of his depth in material that clearly was unfamiliar to him, one of the dangers of our globally connected media community. The ability to access all material globally can lead to a sense of familiarity that might be unfounded.
Back to Brendan Frazer, whose acting is a comedic revelation, with serious moments to leaven the mix. Created as West Texas, Bible-quoting (thankfully not too much) PI hired by Getty to fix his problems, Frazer is a pleasure to watch. Like Carey Grant, Frazer has that rarest of screen qualities: likeability, a quality notably missing from Wahlberg, who always seems to be pressing his acting ability onwards, perhaps as a reminder that he doesn’t have as much to work with. Nahar also pans the excellent Hillary Swank (as Gail Getty, JPGII’s ex-wife) and Donald Sutherland as JPG senior, as well as Frazer. Here’s the quote:
the performances of Sutherland as Getty, Hilary Swank as Paul’s penniless mother and Brendan Fraser as Getty’s fixer, are nothing like their cinematic counterparts’ - Plummer, Michelle Williams and Mark Wahlberg. They seem to know that they’re in a piece of entertainment. Sutherland is almost moustache-twirlingly cunning, and Fraser speaks in an exaggerated Texan drawl as he breaks the fourth wall…
Perhaps the Hindustan Times critic has never met West Texans: the drawl is not overdone, just as it is not representative of all West Texans. But writing off Sutherland’s performance as a caricature is a gross under-appreciation: Sutherland’s Getty is every bit the equal of Plummer’s, albeit different, a reminder of how great actors can give the same role alternate takes, emotions, and characteristics. While Plummer is icy, aloof and cruel, Sutherland can be somewhat more personable, and sarcastic, but always with a leering cruelty just below the surface. Sutherland’s Getty reminded me, in more ways than one, of another one of his great roles, in one of the great films of the 1970s Bernardo Bertolucci’s Novecento, where Sutherland played the decadent, morally corrupt head foreman (and Fascist) of the Berlinghieri estate, the padrone played by Robert DeNiro (and his father by Burt Lancaster). Given that the real life JPGIII kept what amounted to a small harem in his English country manor, the jaded and lascivious aspect that Sutherland brings to the role - the harem is not part of Scott's film - is all appropriate, and true to biographical accounts of the old lecher.
The Hindustan Times critic further shows just how far off-base film critics can be. He also derides the Trust subplot, a very considerable part of that shows 10 episodes, which explores the idea that JPGIII staged the kidnapping in order to pay off his drug and partying debts in Italy, funded by (of course) the Mafia. JPGIII did bandy this idea around, so that when the actual crime happened, the Gettys were not sure if it was for real. And this is the main fault with Danny Boyle’s spin on the event: in stretching the show to almost nine hours, the mafia-side of the story takes over, so that the much more interesting story concerning the many generations of Gettys, the drug-fueled 60s scenes in London and Rome which involved JPGII and III, Talitha Pol and others, is overtaken by what eventually becomes the Godfather Part IV. And this godfather is no Vito Corleone in New York, but an obscure and unsuccessful don in Calabria, the Arkansas of Italy. Perhaps Nahar should stick to more familiar fare.
Both versions are worth watching, not the least for the remarkable acting by two leonine Canadian octogenarians as J Paul III. Entertaining, and both with commentary on how absolute wealth can corrupt absolutely, the story of John Paul Getty III’s kidnapping makes for fascinating, and sometimes remarkable, watching. That two versions of the story were released within months of each other, well that is perhaps even more remarkable.