Where should I even begin on All the Money in the World? This film should have been a fairly simple real-life thriller based around the kidnapping of John Paul Getty the Third in 1973, and his billionaire grandfather’s refusal to pay the ransom. Things got more complicated after Kevin Spacey’s sexual assault allegations, resulting in director Ridley Scott removing Spacey from the role of J.P. Getty and replacing him with Christopher Plummer through a series of reshoots and digital edits. This move bought All the Money considerable media attention and positive press, which quickly turned sour when it was revealed Mark Wahlberg was payed substantially more for the reshoots than co-star Michelle Williams. Chances are that you already know this, dear reader, and indeed it’s hard to watch this film without considering its complicated backstory. It was definitely a remarkable decision from Scott, but does it make for a better film? Or should it be considered on its own merits?
I’m going to say yes, replacing Spacey with Plummer does make the film better. Plummer is a wonderful actor, and in the current climate seeing Spacey play such an irredeemable person would have been too uncomfortable and distracting an experience. Despite all the behind-the-scenes drama Plummer truly does make the role his own, appearing almost genial even as he holds onto his money and power at the expense of his family’s own safety. There is little, if any, moral complexity to a character such as Getty – Scott even desaturates the visuals of many of his scenes so much they border on black-and-white. Considerably more colour, and humanity, is displayed whenever the focus is on Gail Harris, mother to the kidnapped John. Williams brings substantial strength to the role of Gail, who at one point expresses indignation that the press expects photos of her crying over her son, and hides her character’s terror behind a composed and stern expression. Fletcher Chase, negotiator and former CIA operative, bridges the two moral grounds as he deals with both Gail and Getty, but as a character most of his positive talents are informed rather than displayed. It doesn’t help that Wahlberg, who admittedly gives one of his better recent performances, isn’t quite at the same level of actors like Williams or Plummer so is frequently outclassed in their scenes.
One of Ridley Scott’s greatest strengths as a director is crafting atmospheric tension, and All the Money in the World allows him to demonstrate this in a more restrained fashion than last year’s Alien: Covenant or 2015’s The Martian. The impressive thing is how Scott is able to match the stakes between overtly dangerous situations, such as John Paul Getty’s (Charlie Plummer, no relation) fraught interactions with kidnapper Cinquanta (Romain Duris), and subtly sinister moments like Getty looming over the alimony dispute between Gail and his son. John’s famous disfigurement at the hands of his captors is almost casual in execution, with Cinquanta whispering comforting words to the frightened boy as the camera gets up close to all the grisly details like a twisted medical drama. Meanwhile, one of Getty’s monologues about his own power is accompanied by a subtly rising soundscape of insects buzzing, making him seem more monstrous and inhuman than the kidnappers. It’s an interesting juxtaposition between these two groups, even if Gail and Fletcher start to feel like a less interesting pairing stuck in the middle for most of the film.
All the Money in the World is a well made, if unspectacular, picture that would have been almost destined to be lost within Scott’s formidable filmography were it not for the more interesting behind-the-scenes issues. As it stands, the removal of Spacey from the final product does serve to immortalise it – both due to the assured performance of Plummer and the powerful message Scott’s actions send to other filmmakers.