“All the Money in the World” takes its story from an actual event that occurred in 1973: the kidnapping of John Paul Getty III, the grandson of the world’s richest man, oil tycoon J. Paul Getty. That circumstance doesn’t provide the greatest twist to the plot. J. Paul Getty refuses to pay the ransom. That is, until his grandson’s ear arrives in the mail.

The film maximizes the emotional drama by focusing on the perspective of John’s mother Gail Harris (Michelle Williams), who soldiers the responsibility of dealing with the kidnappers. As it turns out, this is her story as much as that of her son.

As disturbing as it is entertaining, “All the Money in the World” takes a sophisticated look at the complexities of family dynamics, addiction, motivation, and manipulation. Mark this one down for movie awards and accolades.  

Moreover, “All the Money in the World” is a testament to the genius and perseverance of seasoned director Ridley Scott. Only a few months before the film was to be released, the decision was made to reshoot it and replace lead actor Kevin Spacey, whose fall from grace amidst accusations of sexual exploitation came swiftly. Distributors at Sony feared that Spacey’s legal troubles and bad press might delay, or derail altogether, the film’s release.

            Scott replaced Spacey with veteran actor Christopher Plummer, whose portrayal of J. Paul Getty falls nothing short of genius. Plummer’s multi-dimensional portrayal gets to the heart of an array of complexities.

Getty asserts unequivocally that his refusal to pay the kidnappers’ request of 17 million dollars would put his other 14 grandchildren at risk of being kidnapped. Although on the surface, that might sound reasonable, it fails to convince the relentless Harris.

            As an in-law of Getty, Harris has little power to shake him. Her ineffectual husband, John Paul Getty II, curries no favor with his father either. Disowned and set up for failure as an executive in Getty’s Rome office, Getty II lives in a fog of drugs and alcohol. Living hand to mouth, they simply have no money or power to negotiate.

Getty assigns his security officer and former spy Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg) to look into the case, and Harris reluctantly leans on him. Then Chase discovers that John had once bragged to his friends about faking his own kidnapping to extort money from Getty. Even though the Italian police and Harris adamantly refute that claim, Chase reports it to Getty, giving him even more cause to turn his back on Harris’s pleas.

By the time John’s ear arrives in the mail at an Italian newspaper, their demands had dwindled to a couple of million. Getty will finally comply, but only in the amount that’s tax deductible. The rest will come in the form of a loan with interest to his son.

The erasable Getty, the desperate Harris, John’s addicted father, and the determined Chase all have a part in determining John’s destiny.  Nothing about this is easy. Money, as it turns out, even all the money in the world, can’t buy happiness.

Rated R for language, some violence, disturbing images and brief drug content.

Marilyn Robitaille has been writing film reviews since 1999.