Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Ridley Scott

Money talks: Hollywood’s new obsession with the Getty empire

In the last few months, fascination with the twisted tales of the billionaire oil baron J Paul Getty, and his grandson Paul’s maybe-staged kidnapping, has reached a fever pitch thanks to two high-profile dramas.

First, Ridley Scott’s Oscar-nominated film All the Money in the World and, now, the 10-part series Trust, the first three episodes of which are helmed by Oscar winner Danny Boyle.

There are substantial differences between the two projects: chiefly, one’s a two-hour movie, the other a 10-hour TV series.

Moreover, where Scott’s film pushes the narrative that Paul’s kidnapping wasn’t planned, Trust frames it as an orchestrated scheme to extort money from his grandfather to pay back debts to drug dealers.

Nevertheless, both All the Money in the World and Trust are in thrall to the Getty family’s troubles, none of which appear to have been eased by the fact that, at one point, its patriarch was estimated to be the richest man in the world.

Bigwigs like Getty have always been catnip for film and TV producers. The relentless avarice of There Will be Blood’s Daniel Plainview and the psychological dissolution of Howard Hughes in The Aviator proved fascinating to both audiences and the Academy and like the recent one-two punch of Getty-centric projects, Bernie Madoff’s fall from grace inspired a miniseries and a film in the span of less than a year.

Something about the rags to riches (and sometimes back to rags) stories, the ambition and the greed, combines the indulgence of a good hate-watch with the vicarious pleasures of viewing lives so far from our own.


The Getty attraction, though, is a bit different.

Both projects that have taken the oil magnate as their subject have largely avoided spending much time recounting the accumulation of his enormous wealth and, since Getty died about as rich as he lived, nor do they depict him squandering it.

After all, the man was notoriously stingy, going so far as to install a coin-operated payphone for guests in his Sutton Place McMansion.

Instead, both Trust and All the Money in the World appear more taken by a kind of palace intrigue, using Getty’s grandson’s disappearance as a lens through which we’re meant to learn something fundamental about the man himself. That he refused to pay his grandson’s ransom, which equaled about a single day’s profit at Getty Oil, signifies more than just cheapness or gross self-regard but also the fraught interplay between money and family.

In the new series, for instance, which was created and written by Simon Beaufoy (a frequent Boyle collaborator who also penned last year’s Battle of the Sexes), the hour-long pilot takes place almost entirely within the Gettys’ gothic London estate, an elaborate, darkly lit fortress where visitors dote on and curry favor with Mr Getty.

The camera zeroes in on the lavish particularities of his life: the multiple girlfriends, the expensive art, the strained family ties, and the butlers, one of whom quite literally dresses Getty from underwear to suit and brushes his teeth for him.

Hilary Swank as Gail Getty in Trust, and Michelle Williams as Gail Getty in All the Money in the World.
 Hilary Swank as Gail Getty in Trust, and Michelle Williams as Gail Getty in All the Money in the World. Composite: FX/AP

Played by Donald Sutherland, Getty is both more menacing and more vulnerable in Trust than he was made to be by Christopher Plummer, who replaced Kevin Spacey in Scott’s film just a month before its release and nabbed an Oscar nomination.

Both portrayals, though, suggest a distant man so paranoid of his own wealth and power that he can hardly put either to good use (“When a man becomes wealthy,” says Plummer’s Getty, as though he’s reciting scripture, “he has to deal with the problem of freedom”).

Where those qualities are most conspicuous is in the kidnapping incident, which remains one of the most peculiar, made-for-TV stories of the 20th century, a veritable checklist of intrigue.

The story includes, of course, a mega-rich oilman and his scions, but also Italian mobs, English manors, a severed ear, family infighting, and an emotional anchor, Gail Getty, played by Hilary Swank in Trust and Michelle Williams in All the Money in the World.

Paul Getty eventually did come home safely, only after the ransom payment was reduced from $17m to $3m. But he was traumatized so deeply by it that he turned, like other members of the Getty family, to drugs and alcohol, suffering a stroke in 1981 brought on by a cocktail of valium, methadone and alcohol that left him quadriplegic.

It remains to be seen whether Trust will make a big splash at FX, especially since a movie with the same subject and plot was released just three months ago to middling box office (it made $25m in the US).

Since Trust proceeds as a slow series of character studies where Money is something of a breakneck thriller, the two may be different enough to stave off Getty fatigue. After all, the American viewing public has not been known to tire of stories like these.




January 2022

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