By Jim Slotek
So, first things first. All The Money In The World, Ridley Scott’s snakebit drama about the kidnapping of young J. Paul Getty III in 1973, will probably always be remembered for its almost impossibly late cast change.
To wit: As Kevin Spacey became embroiled in sexual misconduct reports, Christopher Plummer was called in only last month to re-shoot 22 scenes previously shot by Spacey in the role of the then world’s richest man, J. Paul Getty (grandfather to the young Getty). The old man himself was probably rolling in his grave at the thought of a $10 mil budget add.
We may never know what Spacey’s performance was ultimately like. But we’re spared all the latex that was needed to make him look like an octogenarian. Fresh off his role as Scrooge in The Man Who Invented Christmas, the 88-year-old Plummer sits well in the skin of an old miser whose reputation was carved in stone (or at least headlines) by his public refusal to offer one dime of ransom to his grandson’s kidnappers.
And frankly, anyone who could do a decent Montgomery Burns impression could play the oil baron as written. This is a man, after all, who imagines himself to be the reincarnation of the Emperor Hadrian, keeps a payphone in his home for guests to use, and who, when wavering on the concept of ransom, immediately consults an accountant to ascertain the extent to which it is tax deductible.
So, full marks to our Canadian icon Plummer for the successful pinch-hit. There are aspects to All The Money In The World that are not so spot-on, that have nothing to do with the Spacey/Plummer hand-off and late-stage editing-room surgery. This is a busy script that has trouble deciding on a point-of-view. As it begins, it is narrated by young Paul Getty (Charlie Plummer no relation to Christopher), who is seen wandering through the streets of Rome, on a fateful date with a van-load of kidnappers bent on holding him hostage in rural Calabria.
The device is used for backstory, to introduce us via flashbacks to his family, first in their happy working-class-poor days of estrangement from the old man. There’s dad, J.P. Getty II (Andrew Buchan), a bit of a drinker, but a decent man, and mom Abigail (Michelle Williams).
And then comes a telegram from Himself, effectively calling off the estrangement by offering his son a job in Rome, and dooming the family to life as wealthy exotic plants.
Paul’s narration abruptly ends after the first act, and All The Money In The World become Williams’ movie. She’s a mother at war against her erstwhile father-in-law, against the police, against the kidnappers and (mostly) against Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg), the ex-CIA agent Getty employee who is assigned to get Paul home “as inexpensively as possible.”
Plummer may have received a Golden Globe nod for his quick-fix performance, but it’s his fellow nominee Williams and her mother-bear act that is the best reason to see this movie. At a point where the script simply seems to be following its numbers, she commits a quick, violent act of frustration that makes the audience collectively gasp.
And seriously, who wouldn’t be frustrated with Chase, who turns out to be a pretty poor “fixer,” when he buys into a potentially-fatal theory that Paul planned his own kidnapping. All The Money In The World is awash in people who don’t trust each other, in orbit around a man who believes his money makes the whole world untrustworthy.
As for Paul, after informing the whole first act, he effectively disappears for a great swath of screentime. When we revisit him, he has forged a grudging respect for one of the kidnappers, “Cinquanta” (Romain Duris), whose kindly disposition towards the teen becomes key to staying alive as the kidnappers go from buffoons to potential killers. I feel as if his story might have been worth a movie on its own – or at least a bigger chunk of this one.
But it’s the poor-old-rich-man Getty that All The Money In The World is named for, and to which it keeps returning as if pulled by gravity. Hugging a newly-acquired painting like a beloved child, pronouncing hollowly on the beauty of “things” over people, Plummer’s Getty is a pretty unsubtle Exhibit A in the case for money not buying happiness.
All The Money In The World. Directed by Ridley Scott. Starring Michelle Williams, Christopher Plummer and Mark Wahlberg. Opens wide December 25.