“All the Money in the World”
2 hours, 12 minutes
During the last Awards Season, Ridley Scott’s “All the Money in the World” garnered quite a bit of buzz, including an acting nomination for Christopher Plummer who, at 88, is among the oldest ever to be nominated. I wish all the talk surrounding this film were the result of the gripping, dramatic tour de force the trailer promised, but unfortunately, the film doesn’t deliver on its premise or on its hype. Indeed, the hype is really the most remarkable thing about it.
If you don’t remember, “All the Money in the World” began advertising in late October with a heavily made up Kevin Spacey in the role of J. Paul Getty, the world’s richest man and the center of a whirlwind of media coverage when he famously refused to pay a $17 million dollar ransom for his grandson, held captive by gangsters in Italy. Spacey was already getting Oscar buzz for his performance when the nascent #MeToo movement hit him square in the face. Turns out, if reports are to be believed, Spacey is a pretty odious person, and overnight his entire career went up in flames.
Worried that Spacey might take the film down with him, director Ridley Scott did something unheard of. He announced he was replacing Spacey with his first choice, Christopher Plummer, and would be calling principal cast back for extensive reshoots. Of course, this isn’t the first time a film has had to change directions after discovering some problem with a performer. The most famous example of this is Eric Stoltz being replaced with Michael J. Fox in “Back to the Future.”
But the only other examples I could find of an actor being replaced after a production was finished were in animated movies. Completely replacing a central performer like Spacey was hugely expensive, but I have to guess that the hype generated by the controversy probably paid for at least the reshoots.
Was it worth it? Probably. Plummer is really good in the role, and better when you consider the quick turnaround time – he shot his entire part in nine days. He’s certainly the best part of what is, in the end, a pretty mediocre movie.
The film opens with 16-year-old Paul, an American hippie celebrity walking the streets of Rome. We never really get to know this kid, however, because before too long he is thrown in a van and whisked off to captivity, a ransom note sent asking for $17 million dollars.
What we subsequently find out through flashbacks is that Paul’s mother, Gail, a Getty in name, has virtually no money of her own, having divorced J. Paul Jr. after he descended into drugs and women. Her father-in-law, on the other hand, has all the money in the world, but refuses to part with any of it — that is, unless of course, it’s to purchase some fabulous work of art.
This is obviously not what the kidnappers expected, and after months of fruitless negotiating, sell off their interest in the boy to a more ruthless set of captors.
In the middle of all this is Fletcher Chase, an ex-CIA dealmaker who works for Getty negotiating with the Saudis and others in pursuit of stabilizing his business. Chase goes to Italy to assist Gail and to attempt to get a lower price for the boy. What follows is a long and convoluted negotiation that basically follows the true story, but with a lot of colorful fiction thrown in to pump up the tension.
Oddly, the true story is both darkly comedic and far more tragic than the film suggests. In real life, Fletcher Chase, played in the film by a manly and capable Mark Wahlberg, was a bumbling ineffective figure who helped prolong the situation by convincing Getty that his grandson had cooked up the kidnapping plot in order to extort money.
The arrival of a severed ear changed that narrative. The end of the film suggests a kind of bittersweet, but ultimately hopeful future, but in real life young Paul Getty never really recovered from the ordeal, slipping in to drugs and at age 24 took a dangerous combination of pills and alcohol that left him mute, a paraplegic, and partially blind, a condition he lived with for the next 30 years.
There seems to be a lot of potential here, but as sometimes happens with Ridley Scott movies, the director is unable to create a cohesive whole out of his singular dramatic moments. Yes, some of the movie is very affecting and effective, but with oddly stilted dialogue and over-dramatic music, often the film feels like a trailer for a better movie.
Indeed, the trailer for “All the Money in the World” is better than the finished film. At least it gave us one more great Christopher Plummer performance. That’s something.
“All the Money in the World” is rated R for language and violence.
Chris Jenness is an art teacher, freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.