In case current events are not a priority, here’s what happened. By October of this year, filming for All the Money in the World was complete. Actor Kevin Spacey, who had played the role of J. Paul Getty in the film and was presumably getting ready for his next project, was suddenly accused of sexual assault and harassment. With such a burst of negative publicity now attached to the prestigious project, premieres were canceled, along with a potential Academy Award campaign focused on Spacey’s supporting role. Most of that you may already know. It’s the timeline that makes what followed so fascinating.
Early November was when the studio announced that the film was on hold while reshoots were planned. All of the now disgraced Spacey scenes would be removed. In his place, the actor who was said to be director Ridley Scott’s first choice to play the role of the billionaire, Christopher Plummer, would now be Getty. All the studio had to do was reassemble the cast, revisit locations, and at a reported cost of an extra $10 million, get those scenes filmed, edited, and inserted into the otherwise completed project. Christopher Plummer had just days to learn his lines. The cast and crew spent Thanksgiving working against a deadline. Filming began on November 20 and was completed on the 29. You have to guess, the chance for more than one take of any moment was minimal.
Interestingly, director Scott showed no footage to Plummer of the work Spacey had completed. The direction, the movement, and the performance of Plummer is said to be considerably different than that of Spacey’s. We’ll probably never see Kevin Spacey’s accomplishment and will never be in a position to compare (though some caught a glimpse when an early Spacey trailer was released, then removed) but considering there was about six weeks to get everything done with only nine days to shoot, having All the Money in the World ready for a December 25 opening, completed and in the can, is quite remarkable, especially considering how good the end result turns out to be, and how extraordinary Christopher Plummer is as the wealthy American industrialist.
Those who do keep up with current events and are of a certain age will remember the true event. In 1973, sixteen year-old grandson to J. Paul Getty was kidnapped by the Italian mob and held to ransom for $17 million. His frugal grandfather, who actually installed a British phone booth in his home so that visitors would have to use coins to make a call, refused to pay. “He wasn’t just the richest man in the world,” an introductory voice-over tells us. “He was the richest man in the history of the world.”
The kidnapping is filmed in stylish black and white that slowly transitions into sepia tone, then to color. The teenage grandson (Charlie Plummer, no relation) is at this point living in Italy, and for whatever reckless reason is walking late at night through a bad part of the city. “The street is no place for a boy like you,” calls out a prostitute as the young Getty walks by. “Go home.” And she’s right. Seconds later, a white van pulls up, men jump out, Getty is forcibly hauled into the vehicle, and the van speeds away.
Because the young Getty’s parents were divorced, and the father (Andrew Buchan) had become a recluse, addicted to drugs, the film revolves around the efforts of the boy’s responsible and level-headed mother, Gail Harris (Michelle Williams, with an East Coast, Kennedy-esque styled accent) to negotiate terms and to get her boy back to safety. The billionaire Getty’s response to not paying a ransom was simple. He had 14 other grandchildren. If he paid the ransom, there would be 14 other kidnappings. As for Gail, she now lived a normal life and had no part of the billionaire’s circle. As she tells a kidnapper during a call, “I’m not a real Getty. I never was. I’m a real person.”
The real-life story makes for a good tale, often going in directions you may not expect. What begins as a drama ends as a nail-biter, with a final conclusion that covers what happened 3 years later once the richest living American died at his mansion home near London. What follows is one of a couple of crowd-pleasing moments, with an outcome that, considering what had previously occurred, will come as a complete and pleasant surprise, one that would make the old, real-life miser turn in his grave.
The other crowd-pleasing moment happens earlier and concerns Mark Wahlberg’s character, ex-CIA operative and head of everything that makes the elderly billionaire secure, Fletcher Chase. As an actor, Wahlberg has improved considerably, but he’s not great, and with his soft, whispery delivery, he tends to play Wahlberg in every role. Considering the type of man Fletcher Chase really is and the previous, in-the-field experience as a spy the man has accrued, the part would have been better served by someone older with a more rough-around-edge look and manner. Yet, the way the role is written, there are times when the miscasting is overlooked by the power of the moment. Throughout, Chase has kept his feelings intact, but when the situation becomes desperate and he’s only too aware that with the gazillion dollars in interest Getty makes in a single day, he confronts the billionaire. Getty insists he has no money to spare. “What would it take to make you feel secure?” asks Chase, regarding the amount of money his employer makes. “More,” Getty replies.
But even if the story itself, with its twists and turns, its frustrations, and its ultimate edge-of-your-seat climax in the quiet, narrow streets of a small Italian village, is enough to maintain interest and keep you excited, it’s the background to knowing how Plummer’s scenes were finalized that fascinates.
There’s a strange irony knowing that what kept Plummer initially away from the role when director Scott wanted him was his commitment to playing Scrooge in The Man Who Invented Christmas. As Getty, Plummer is every inch the tight-fisted, squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner straight out of Dickens, yet, unlike that Victorian era miser, this wealth-obsessed obscenity was real. Considering today’s present political climate, watching Getty operate as he does gives us a glimpse into the attitudes of the usually unseen power hungry donors who buy our democracy and help shape laws that continue to favor their own wants and needs, where enough is never enough, and, like Getty, all they want is more.
Considering the time frame and the lack of preparation, Plummer is quite superb. At 88, he’s considerably closer in age to the real Getty than Spacey is at 58. Plus director Scott has skillfully integrated those new moments smoothly into the previously completed film. This is no cookie-cutter production. You can’t see the join.
MPAA Rating: R Length: 132 Minutes Overall Rating: 8 (out of 10)