Christopher Plummer as J. Paul Getty in All the Money in the World
The first thing most people will mention about Ridley Scott’s new drama, All the Money in the World
, is how Christopher Plummer replaced Kevin Spacey after a storm of sexual assault allegations earlier this year. The film was fully edited and ready to go when Scott booted Spacey from the picture, cast Plummer, and re-shot a substantial number of scenes in 10 whirlwind days. Plummer and Scott may be rewarded for their efforts with Academy Award nominations — they both already nabbed Golden Globe nods — but the film suffers greatly for the decision.
All the Money
recounts the abduction of and ransom negotiations for J. Paul Getty III (hereafter “Paul”), grandson of American Industrialist J. Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer). And beyond the bumpy first half hour, within which the transnational family narrative is most confusing and Plummer’s late insertion is most glaring, the key hang-up I had with the film was the character of Getty himself.
He is a monstrous figure, an oil tycoon so idolatrous of wealth, so fiendishly and cruelly committed to his own power, that he barely registers as human. Everything about him is disgusting; nevertheless his ruthless devotion to money, to “being rich,” is of a sort that is often valorized in American culture. And this made his kernels of business wisdom and the film’s occasional efforts to soften him tough to stomach. (Some might chuckle at his quip about how doing one’s own laundry is tax deductible. I sneered.)
For the most part, to be fair, Getty’s personal priorities are exposed as morally bankrupt. His money, and how he spends it, are the sources of the film’s central friction. As it turns out, the material with young Paul (Charlie Plummer), in the hands of Italian organized criminals, doesn’t make for riveting viewing, beyond a brutal scene in which an ear is removed. The real drama and tension stems from Getty’s refusal to pay the ransom – he claims that doing so will jeopardize his other grandchildren. Paul’s Mother Gail Harris (Michelle Williams) and former CIA operative Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlburg) are forced to negotiate terms with the kidnappers in the face of Getty’s intransigence.
The film’s ultimate question is why: Why won’t the richest man in the world pay his grandson’s ransom? And the answer, beyond the boardroom dissembling, is obvious: Getty is just a rich asshole. His late financial capitulations come with strings attached, and in the final analysis he is beyond redemption. Even when Wahlburg’s Fletcher Chase, at last, gets to speak to Getty the way the audience would like to, the scene is a letdown, rushed and lacking in emotional power. One suspects it was re-shot.
Ridley Scott, though, like Steven Spielberg, is a filmmaker in the late stages of a long and illustrious career. At this point, he’s not breaking new ground. Maybe this was just a news story he’d long been fascinated by or curious about back in the 70s. Who knows. It’s certainly not inherently cinematic.
But Scott is a wizard at creating memorable and effective color palettes for his movies – think of the greens and blacks of Alien
, the bronze and sandstone of Gladiator
, the reds of The Martian
. Here, Getty’s England estate is rainy and dark and full of shadowy tile. It is the perfect lair for this ugly man, a visual landscape as cold and hard as cash.