Though it’s doubtful most mainstream film fans would have rushed out to see a period, Oscar-bait drama like All the Money in the World on opening day anyway, news of the sexual harassment allegations against star Kevin Spacey breaking just weeks before the film’s release certainly didn’t help. Deeply troubled by the reports and determined not to let the headlines tank his film, Oscar-nominated director-producer Ridley Scott (Gladiator, Alien: Covenant) came up with a truly radical idea.
Just days before Money’s scheduled premiere at the AFI Fest in Los Angeles, Scott yanked the film from the schedule, scrubbed the two-time Oscar winner’s entire performance from the movie, and replaced him with veteran character actor Christopher Plummer, who then reshot almost all of Spacey’s scenes with the principal cast over the Thanksgiving holiday to the tune of a cool $10 million. Of course, Scott also paid Mark Wahlberg (Boogie Nights, Daddy’s Home 2) more than 1,500 times what he paid co-star Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn, Brokeback Mountain) for the reshoots, but, that’s a different story. And Wahlberg later donated his entire salary in Williams’ name to the Time’s Up Legal Defense fund, so, all’s well that ends well. But the real question remained…was All the Money in the World worth all that money?
The answer is a hard maybe. For although Money’s true-life tale of the infamous 1973 kidnapping of 16-year old Getty oil heir Paul Getty (played by Boardwalk Empire’s Charlie Plummer) by the Italian mob makes for a pretty juicy story and the cast is uniformly excellent – particularly Christopher Plummer, who garnered a richly deserved Best Supporting Oscar nod for his performance as billionaire skinflint J. Paul Getty – the way the story is told is off-putting in the extreme.
Bouncing wildly back and forth between time periods and locales with little of Scott’s usual panache or visual flair, the first third of the film feels like a cheapie Netflix documentary – all quick cuts, title cards, and exposition. And while that might be fine if the film found its groove later on or packed a real emotional wallop at the end, but, sadly, neither of those things happen.
So, essentially, what we’re left with is a cold, bloodless movie about a cold, bloodless family with all the money in the world but little else. And though Williams tries to inject some heart into her role as Getty’s strangely robotic daughter-in-law/Paul’s mother, Abigail “Gail” Getty, and Wahlberg is effective as Getty’s cool-eyed fixer, Fletcher Chase, the only character I even remotely cared about was one of the kidnappers, Cinquanta, played by award-winning French actor Romain Duris (Madame Hyde, The New Girlfriend). Stunned by Gail’s icy veneer and the elder Getty’s steadfast refusal to pay the kidnappers one red cent for his grandson’s return, Cinquanta deservedly steals the film as the incredulous audience surrogate/kidnapper with a heart of gold.
Based on the 1995 book Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortune and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty by John Pearson, Money was adapted for the screen by David Scarpa (The Last Castle, The Day the Earth Stood Still) who tries his best to wring drama from the material but falls flat at every turn. And whether that’s the fault of Scott and company or the fact that the plight of a bunch of cold, rich a-holes ultimately isn’t nearly as compelling as it sounds, the most noteworthy thing about the entire film is Plummer’s towering, Charles Foster Kane-ish performance as Getty. His beautifully operatic death scene is worth the price of admission alone. So, I guess in that respect, Scott’s epic gamble finally did pay off after all.
Now playing on select British Airways, United, Japan Airlines (JAL), Air France, Singapore Airlines, and Emirates flights worldwide, All the Money in the World is also available via streaming at Amazon Video, Google Play, and iTunes.