FEBRUARY 12, 2018
Chances are that if you’ve heard of Ridley Scott’s latest film “All the Money in the World,” it’s about the mishegas surrounding its Christmas release.
The film was finished in early November and ready for the first round of critics screenings when word came down that co-star Kevin Spacey was involved in a number of serious sexual allegations involving young men. As it became clear that the scandal involving Spacey was not going away soon, the film’s producers had a number of choices — postpone the expensive film indefinitely until the furor died down, scrap the release of the film entirely and send it to video or, the most radical choice, recast Spacey’s role as J.P. Getty and start all over again.
Producer/director Ridley Scott chose the most radical option.
He recast Christopher Plummer (who was Scott’s first choice for the role anyway), salvaged the original sets, revisited the story’s locations and brought back co-stars Mark Wahlberg and Michelle Williams at radically different salaries (more on that later) to refilm all of the J.P. Getty scenes. Let’s just say that there was a number of skeptics (myself included) who doubted that even the great Ridley Scott could pull something like this off.
And he did. “All the Money in the World” may not have turned out to be the best movie in the world, but Scott was true to his word and completed the reshot film in time for its December 25 release date. What’s more, the last-minute substitute turns out to be the MVP of the whole thing.
It’s 1973. John Paul Getty (Plummer) is not only the richest man in the world but the richest man who has ever lived in the world. And he doesn’t like to spend his money on people. On things, sure. Objects will never disappoint him.
When his favorite grandson John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer, no relation) is kidnapped on the streets of Rome by an organized crime ring, the kidnappers demand a ransom of $17 million. The boy’s father, John Paul Jr. (Andrew Richan), has devolved into a drug-addled mess and his mother Gail Harris (Michelle Williams) has given up alimony to gain custody of her children and cannot pay the ransom either.
So all eyes turn to Grandpa, who does not fail to not disappoint. In front of the worldwide cameras (and aggressive paparazzi are a recurring theme in the film), Grandpa announces that, in order to get his favorite grandson back, he is prepared to pay…nothing.
Instead, Getty asks former CIA operative Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg), to find his grandson. Frustrated that her father-in-law refuses to pay the ransom to get her son back, Gail reluctantly teams up with Chase to find the kidnapped teen. With weeks going by with no ransom paid, the original kidnappers sell the hostage to a more ruthless group, which promptly ups the stakes by cutting off the boy’s ear and sending it to Getty, an act for which this kidnapping is still best remembered by the public.
For decades now, Scott has been adept at creating suspense, and even when the material begins to be spinning its wheels (as it certainly does here), Scott manages to generate a surprising amount of tension. In fact, his admiration within the film industry is so strong that I suspect that was the only reason that Sony allowed him to reshoot the Spacey scenes in his attempt to salvage the film. The new scenes are so seamlessly incorporated into the film that, had you not known the background story, you’d never suspect that there was a reshoot.
After some brilliant work in last year’s “Manchester By the Sea” last year, Williams was sadly back to playing a her familiar “wifey” role in the current “The Greatest Showman.” But here as Gail, she has the chance to show some real strength of character — she’s not quite Frances McDormand in “Three Billboards,” but Williams’ Gail is certainly cut from the same cloth.
Wahlberg, on the other hand, is simply not credible as an ex-CIA operative in the slightest. (When he delivers the line about not carrying a gun because it ruins the line of his suit, it’s almost laughable.) And yet, when Williams and Wahlberg were called back for reshooting the scenes with Plummer, Wahlberg received $1.5 million, while Williams, who was in just as many scenes, was paid a mere $1,000, a shocking discrepancy that became the film’s second scandal. (To his credit, when the news broke, Wahlberg did the right thing and donated his salary in Williams’ name to Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, but the fact that this is still happening in Hollywood is cause for alarm.)
Despite Scott’s yeoman efforts to salvage the film, I have already forgotten almost everything about “All the Money in the World.” Everything, in fact, except Plummer. Is it worth sitting through a 140-minute long, often turgid kidnapping drama just to see one performance? In the case of Christopher Plummer, I’d have to say that the answer is yes.