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All the Money in the World

 Better Offscreen Drama than Onscreen 

Mark Wahlberg
Mark Wahlberg
TriStar Pictures
 132 Minutes
Directed byRidley Scott
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Michelle Williams 
All the Money in the World

Sometimes, real life catches up with art in strange ways. In 2004, the Farrelly brothers were in the midle of filming Fever Pitch, a rather run-of-the-mill romantic comedy about a die-hard Boston Red Sox fan having to choose between his girlfriend and his Sox, when something completely unforeseen happened. The Red Sox won the American League pennant and then the World Series in one of the greatest comebacks in sports history, and the writers had to hastily revise the film’s ending. Recently, other, more serious real life events forced some hasty revisions to another movie, All the Money in the World, and the revisions themselves are probably more noteworthy than the movie.


All the Money in the World is the story of the 1973 kidnapping of J.P. Getty III, grandson of John Paul Getty, one of the richest men in the world, and originally played by Kevin Spacey (who can still be seen in the film’s earliest trailers and was initially promoted by the studio as an Oscar candidate). However, when allegations of sexual assault against Spacey became public, there was an immediate backlash against the film, and early screenings were cancelled. In an effort to salvage the movie, director Ridley Scott and the studio made the stunning move of hiring Christopher Plummer to replace Spacey. Plummer was able to shoot his scenes in late November and the movie still premiered at Christmas time, as originally scheduled.


Although actors have been replaced early in the shooting of a film (a notable example being Michael J. Fox replacing Eric Stoltz in Back to the Future), and studios have been able to work around actors who died or were injured during filming (like Paul Walker in Furious 7), a recasting of a major role this close to a film’s premiere is probably unprecedented. And, make no mistake, the Plummer/Spacey role is not a cameo; it’s the third largest role in the movie, with the character of J. Paul Getty playing a key role. So, aside from any effect on the marketability of All the Money in the World, how successful was the recast and reshoot?


Well, there are two ways to look at All the Money in the World in light of the controversy. As a technical achievement by Scott, Plummer, and the film’s crew, the movie is amazing. Although eagle-eyed audience members can spot Spacey in at least one distance shot, all the close-ups have been redone and either reshot with the original actors appearing opposite Plummer, rewritten slightly to accommodate the presence of other actors, or re-edited to have him inserted in existing scenes. Whatever was done, the photography and editing of these closeup scenes were flawless.


Also flawless is Christopher Plummer’s performance as Getty, a wealthy man fascinated by precious possessions but almost paranoid about the possibility of losing it all, a man who approached the ransom negotiations the same way he did any business deal, as a matter of ruthless negotiation. Plummer manages to evoke both spite and pity, especially in his later scenes in the movie. This would be a great performance under any circumstances; to have to film it on the fly as he did is little short of amazing.


However, once the audience looks past Plummer’s performance, what is left is a sensational story that’s told in an often routine matter. The real life events surrounding the kidnapping are part of the problem with which Scott and screenwriter David Scarpa had to contend. The actual kidnapping ordeal stretched over several months, for much of which nothing happened. The kidnappers first approached Gail Harris (Michelle Williams), mother of the kidnapped boy, but she had little money in her own name, and Getty refused to pay anything, claiming he would open himself and his family up to more kidnappings and claims.


Getty does, however, bring in one of his security agents, Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg), a former CIA agent, to handle negotiations. Months later, the initial group of kidnappers sell young Getty (Charlie Plummer, no relation to Christopher) to a more hardnosed group who lower the ransom amount but threaten to get tough with the boy. That threatened toughness proves no idle threat, as the kidnappers cut off young Getty’s ear and send it to the offices of a newspaper. Eventually, Getty agrees to loan the ransom money to his son, and Gail and Fletcher deliver the ransom.


 All the Money in the World vacillates between two separate stories. First, there is the give and take among the Getty family, primarily pitting J. Paul Getty against his daughter-in-law, with Fletcher Chase caught in between. This is not a good role for Mark Wahlberg, as he is reduced to being more or less of a go-between and sounding board who also provides some longwinded information dumps about the progress of the investigation. Wahlberg often appears out of his element here. On the other hand, Michelle Williams proves herself quite a good contrast to Plummer, and, since she is considerably younger and better able to move around, she has more of an impact on the film itself.


As for the kidnapping, despite the physical danger and an actual temporary escape from custody by the kidnapped boy, the events simply take too long to unfold and aren’t that tense. Of course, part of the lack of suspense is due to the fact that this is a real-life story in which the boy’s eventual fate is well known. But it’s also due to the fact that the investigative presence in the movie is nearly non-existent. This movie needed some editing to cut out the slack and reduce running time by a half hour or so.


Despite the problems presented by the details of the actual kidnapping (not to mention the recast, Ridley Scott does a solid job with what he has to work with. The eventual money drop and release of young Getty is handled quite well, building up suspense even though the eventual outcome is well known. Also, during the boy’s captivity, Scott humanizes the ordeal by creating a sympathetic character, Cinquanta (Romain Duris), as one of the kidnappers who grows close to young Getty. All in all, Scott makes this about as suspenseful as a six-month kidnapping ordeal can be.


Despite the sensational subject matter, All the Money in the World will now be forever known as the movie in which Christopher Plummer replaced Kevin Spacey at the last minute. And that’s really a good thing, since, viewed in that light, the movie serves as an excellent tribute to two octogenarian masters, Plummer and Ridley Scott. The story itself, however, is competently told but overlong and a bit stolid, when not buoyed by Plummer’s masterful performance. Plummer and Scott’s work is worth a fortune, but the rest of the movie is not.


In this scene, Christopher Plummer reveals his financial insecurities to Mark Wahlberg.

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All the Money in the World (2017) on IMDb