All the Money in the World ★★★
Opening Monday, Dec. 25
There’s a really interesting movie around All the Money in the World, but it’s not the one being released on Christmas day. Instead, it's the making-of retrospective I hope we'll see someday, which will detail the Herculean task of recasting and reshooting the film's lead actor a month before its release. After multiple sexual harassment and assault allegations came to light in October against Kevin Spacey, who had already filmed his scenes as industrialist J. Paul Getty, director Ridley Scott recast Christopher Plummer in the role. Plummer shot his scenes in the final week in November as Scott and editor Claire Simpson recut the film.
In truth, Plummer is better suited, both physically and philosophically, to play the elderly, miserly Getty. While Spacey specializes in smarm, Plummer’s weathered countenance and squinted stare channel an eccentric whose formidable business acumen has gradually ceded ground to paranoia and an alternative reality of his own making. By 1973, when the film is set, the eighty-year-old Getty is the richest private citizen in the world, a billionaire obsessed with spending untold treasure on artwork and antiquities. Getty also believes he’s the reincarnation of Roman emperor Hadrian. He air-dries washed underwear while traveling instead of paying the hotel’s laundry service; he installs a payphone in his stately residence so that guests don't run up his long-distance bill.
When Paul (Charlie Plummer, no relation), Getty’s grandson, is kidnapped in Rome, he becomes a commodity not unlike one of his granddad’s investments. Getty famously refused to pay any ransom. After several months, the original captors recover their sunk cost by selling Paul to another crime boss, who hopes to flip the depreciating asset. Meanwhile, Getty holds out until he can exert negotiating leverage on not just the abductors, but also on Paul’s desperate mother, Gail (a solid Michelle Williams), who got full custody of Paul after she divorced Getty’s son. Despite Gail’s patrician accent, she’s still flailing in a world of evil, emotionless men. The scenes between Williams and Plummer are the film’s high points.
Despite its scattered moments of brilliance, the whole of All the Money in the World is less than the sum of its parts. There’s a cookie-cutter quality to the plot construction. The missteps start with a miscast Mark Wahlberg as Fletcher Chase, an ex-CIA spook who serves as both Getty’s fixer and Gail’s confidant, neither to adequate effect. Writer David Scarpa spins a knotty morality play, only to resolve all of Getty’s obstinance and carefully crafted cruelty with a townie tongue-lashing from Marky Mark.
While All the Money in the World isn’t strictly a J. Paul Getty biopic, we learn little about the makeup of the magnate aside from brief flashbacks to the origins of his oil business and a passing reference to his disapproving father. Maybe we’ll discover more from the ten-episode television series about the Getty kidnapping that premieres on FX next month, which is probably another reason Scott didn’t delay his film’s release date despite the whirlwind last-minute changes. Even so, whatever drama the TV show portrays won’t match All the Money in the World’s off-screen intrigue.