Eleventh Hour replacement Christopher Plummer excels as oil tycoon J.P. Getty in Ridley’s Scott’s heavily publicized kidnapping drama, All the Money in the World.
It is ironic that the most talked about part of All the Money in the World was never originally planned and the result of a terrible scandal. Director Ridley Scott was busy finalising the music on his film ahead of an imminent and heavily promoted release date, when shocking allegations broke about one of his leads. Kevin Spacey, who had played J.P. Getty, was allegedly responsible for deeds of sexual misconduct and assault, which spanned decades and had been systematically covered-up. As more stories continued to come forward, it prompted Scott to take immediate and drastic action, to recast Christopher Plummer in this key role. A frantic reshoot over the Thanksgiving period, with a reported cost of $10 million, ensured that his gamble paid off and the film met its planned release date. Cynics would add that this move also ensured that the film acquired extensive additional media coverage.
All the Money in the World is loosely based on the 1973 kidnapping of 16-year-old John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer – no relation to Christopher Plummer) from the streets of Rome by Italian mobsters. Eager to capitalise on his status as the grandson of oil tycoon J.P. Getty, his captors demand a $17 million ransom payment to secure his safe return. However J.P. Getty has no intentions of parting with a single dime of his acquired fortune and Paul’s mother, Gail (Michelle Williams) is estranged from the family with no money to her name since her divorce from Getty’s son. Her pleas for help from her former father-in-law are to no avail as he publically declares that with 14 other grandchildren, he cannot pay the ransom, as it would result in all of them becoming targets for kidnappings. So instead of providing money, he dispatches his head of security and key business negotiator – ex-CIA agent Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg) to join Gail in Rome to find and retrieve Paul.
The film is adapted by David Scarpa from the 1995 thriller ‘Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortune and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty’ by veteran true-crime author John Pearson. The incredible and thrilling true events, feature larger than life characters and fascinating and engaging scenarios, which make it perfectly suited for adaption. A fact further demonstrated by the upcoming 10 part TV series for FX, directed by Danny Boyle, due to be released at the end of January.
Several aspects of the true story have been altered and simplified for the purposes of entertainment and some of these decisions are a disservice to the original people involved. The Kidnapped victim’s father, John Paul II (Andrew Buchan) is depicted as being entirely absent due to drug addiction, which has been grossly exaggerated from the real situation, to ensure that Gail is the heroine and the drama is centred on her struggle. While the script is witty, it is at times uneven and it is not until the final stages of the film before we begin to believe that Getty’s grandson is in real physical danger. We are then treated to a thrilling and suspenseful final act, which will have you on the edge of your seat and makes the earlier faults forgivable.
Christopher Plummer is easily the best thing about this film as he humanises a character that displays more affection for priceless works of art and antiques than his own family. The film excels when Getty is on screen, but this unfortunately creates an imbalance when it shifts to other aspects that have been overly simplified and lack the same depth. Michelle Williams gives an excellent performance as a browbeaten mother in visible distress as she is powerless to save her son from impending doom. While the role of Getty has received all the media headlines, the film is clearly Gail’s story about ultimately standing up to her former father-in-law, whose vast fortune offers the only hope for her son’s safe release.
Surprisingly, it is Mark Wahlberg who feels more like a last minute replacement in the film and his purpose as a vital employee to J.P. Getty is not entirely clear aside from him regularly repeating that “I negotiate deals”. Wahlberg seems to be playing his standard Boston cop and regular guy-next-door routine, electing to don a pair of seventies style glasses as his method of serious acting when ever a scene requires more intensity.
Ridley Scott has created a visually stunning film with beautiful sets and scenery. He has found a way to ensure that the audience empathises with the ruthlessness of Getty and see his vulnerability, which is not expected from the world’s wealthiest man. The pacing is excellent and it never lets us feel the agonising waiting that must have played a large part of the lengthy ordeal. Scott seamlessly flips between the action of Gail and Fletcher on the paparazzi filled streets of Rome, to Paul’s growing desperation as he is being held by his captors in the barren Italian countryside. This drama is all presented in stark contrast to Getty, who continues to maintain his set business routine and life in his opulent mansion with his main distraction being the pursuit of a prized work of art.
A cynical viewpoint is whether this film would be receiving such a large amount of press and award coverage had it not been affected by the sexual harassment shake-up currently sweeping through Hollywood. Putting politics aside, All the Money in the World is an entertaining thriller with a stand-out performance worth spending some of your money on.
After Kevin Spacey was replaced by Christopher Plummer, director Ridley Scott decided not to show Plummer any footage of Spacey in character, or even tell him how Spacey played the scenes. When finished, Scott found both performances to be quite different and equally effective in their own particular styles.