All the Money in the World is going to go down in history, not because it’s a masterpiece (it’s not) but for being the single strangest thing to happen as a result of the current climate in Hollywood. For those not in the know, Ridley Scott’s latest thriller originally starred Kevin Spacey, and up until a few weeks ago, the completed film was in the can. When Kevin Spacey was revealed to be a creep and fell into disgrace, it became immediately clear the film could not be released as initially planned, nor could the pending awards campaign for Spacey’s work move forward. So Sir Ridley Scott, filmmaking savant that he is, got right to work at cutting Spacey from the completed picture and inserting Christopher Plummer in his place. The reshoots took mere days, and the re-editing was completed in time for Christmas release. This is truly historic in that it sets a precedent for what can be done with the proper resources, but it also helps to reinforce a new truth manifesting in Hollywood: You’d better behave, because no star is too big to fail.
And here’s the thing. Short of a few minimally noticeable weight fluctuations on Mark Wahlberg, the Plummerized edition of All the Money in the World is seamless. It’s truly incredible what’s been achieved here. You’d never know that this final product wasn’t the original one. As for the movie itself, it’s a handsome, solid thriller, with terrific performances throughout. There’s no reinvention of the wheel on any level but the most obvious technical one, and that’s just fine.
In 1973, oil magnate J. Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer) was not just the richest man in the world, but the richest man who ever lived. This wealth turns his family into potential targets for extortion, which is exactly what happens when John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer, no relation) is nabbed by masked men on the streets of Rome. They demand a hefty ransom, but unfortunately for young Paul, his stingy grandfather won’t pay a dime. Grandpa Getty claims this is because, by caving to the demands of kidnappers, he opens up his entire family to similar attacks. This is a noble conceit, but Getty’s behaviors also speak to simple greed. The dude just loves money, and he’ll be damned if he’s going to invest such a large chunk of change into saving just one of his many grandchildren. Instead of paying the ransom he hires security specialist Fletcher Chase (“Marky” Mark Wahlberg) to bring the boy home using less financially risky methods. Meanwhile the boy’s mother Gail (Michelle Williams) is fighting multiple battles of her own. She has no money, her ex-husband has abandoned the family business in favor of opioids and sex, and the kidnappers are mailing her her son’s body parts.
It’s a wild story, and even though the closing credits plainly state that much of it was heightened for dramatic effect, a quick trip to Wikipedia will show you that much of what makes this story so insane really did happen. The further I dug down this particular wiki-hole, the more it surprised me that I hadn’t really heard of this story until the film was announced.
The script, penned by David Scarpa, is officially based on the 1995 John Pearson novel Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty, and despite being solely focused on the years surrounding the kidnapping, it still feels a bit diluted. I didn’t feel the runtime as the movie played, but there were a handful of scenes which felt extraneous. At the same time, certain developments occur without sufficient information to fuel them (Chase’s first lead seems to come out of thin air, for example). But Ridley Scott is nothing if not a master, and even when he’s making one of his middle-of-the-road pictures, he’s still doing it with panache and skill. Be it an action sequence, a purposefully torturous scene of bodily harm, or simple boardroom negotiations, he keeps a fire lit under the proceedings, allowing it all to simmer or explode as needed. In any scene in which Gail and Getty are made to negotiate ethics and finances in one fell swoop, the film becomes the Oscar contender it so earnestly wants to be. Both Williams and Plummer dig deep for these moments, and it’s positively delicious. Otherwise, All the Money in the World just a slick bit of true crime fun.
Emerging as the film’s biggest highlight is Chinquanta (Romain Duris), the one kidnapper who seems to actually care for young Paul, and seems to be operating on a different ethical code than the others. The film doesn’t ask us to forgive him, but does humanize him in a way not often seen when dealing with villains. It’s moments where Chinquanta is urgently trying to curb Paul’s rebellious inclinations (if only to soften the blow of whatever harm is pending) where the script shows the most nuance, and elevates above being a standard thriller. It’s an interesting juxtaposition to see Chinquanta, a legitimate criminal, behaving like a person with a soul, placed against Getty, a “good” man who gives no consideration to the experience of others. If a theme were being explored in the film, it’s this one.
Take that, capitalism.
Overall, All the Money in the World is exactly the movie it purports to be, given additional credence due to its groundbreaking production. It really is awesome that we live in a world where a film can go from doomed to saved in the blink of an eye. Ridley Scott said that his reason for going forward with the Plummerization was to make sure that the multitudes of people who contributed to the film would still get to see the fruits of their labor. He’s fully aware of how collaborative an art form film is, and its heartwarming that he and the studio opted not to cut and run – opted to honor everyone who worked on the film that didn’t turn out to be a monster. And really, old man makeup never looks 100% right, so it works much better to have an actual old man in the part.
That said, Christopher Plummer does a wonderful job, as always, but the awards chatter is based more on spite toward Spacey than praise toward Plummer. And honestly, that’s fine by me. Good riddance, dude. YOU HAVE BEEN PLUMMERIZED.
Author: Dan Scully
Dan Scully is a film buff and humorist living in a tiny apartment in Philadelphia. He hosts the podcast I Like to Movie Movie and is the proud father to twin cactuses named Riggs & Murtaugh. Also, he doesn’t really mind when Batman kills people. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.