True-life kidnap drama All the Money in the World is “two distinct films fighting for attention”, says MacDara Conroy

It would be too easy to peg All the Money in the World as That Film Reshot To Excise Kevin Spacey, though that is exactly what it is. With its release imminent as the news broke of sexual assault allegations against its now disgraced (and former) leading man, it was all but inevitable that something would have to be done. In any other circumstances that would mean pushing back the release date, or even shelving the project till a solution could be found. But on the eve of awards season, more drastic measures were required.

Hence, Christopher Plummer was swiftly drafted for a brisk few weeks of reshoots that wrapped literally a month before the final production was screened for the press. That has to be some kind of record, and one that cynical ol’ me thinks might be a convenient distraction from the reason it was needed in the first place. Director Ridley Scott can say all he likes that Plummer was always his first choice for the role, but we all know hands were forced and contingency plans were enacted.

In any case, it’s almost academic to say that Plummer feels like a much better fit than Spacey in the role of 20th-century oil oligarch J Paul Getty, whose spectre haunts the ‘inspired by true events’ hostage drama at the centre of the story. When teenage Paul Getty (Charlie Plummer, no relation) is kidnapped from the streets of Rome by a gang of opportunist petty crooks, everyone expects Grandpa to pay the ransom: the kidnappers, the press, even his mother Gail (Michelle Williams), whose past experience means she should know better. To everyone’s dismay, the so-called ‘richest man in the world’ refuses to budge on ill-defined principle, which sets up a parallel story in the battle of wits between a monstrous ultra-capitalist and a mother desperate to save her son.

Christopher Plummer in All the Money in the World

So that’s two distinct films fighting for attention here, and the results are jarring. So much exposition is required to establish the enmity between Getty and his scions that the timeline starts hopping all over the place before any viewer’s got their bearings. Once that settles down, we’re left with an odd bunch of characters, to say the least. There’s the captive young man who doesn’t inspire the sympathy he should, and whose slow dance of mutual respect with kidnapper Cinquanta (Romain Duris) falls flat. There’s a miscast Mark Wahlberg, who constantly teeters on the brink of parody, as the ex-CIA fixer employed by Getty to solve the ‘issue’ without paying out and, in his mind, only encouraging the moochers.

And then there’s Getty himself. Plummer does a tremendous job with what he has, especially at short notice. But the part as written is a caricature of the ultimate miser, a veritable Montgomery Burns made flesh. If the guffaws of laughter his cartoonish awfulness elicits were intentional, then I have no idea what kind of tone Ridley Scott was trying to achieve. That’s especially since in doing so, it downplays the angle that Getty was really no business genius, but a typical Randian swindler who simply had the fortune to be first.

The film’s saving grace is Williams, whose exaggerated well-to-do accent doesn’t seem all that strange against the rarefied atmosphere around her, and is her only significant flaw. She is the heart and the drive of a film that otherwise looks the part of a serious period drama, but seems determined to refuse to take itself seriously. Those reshoots may not have solved its storytelling problems, but they were an opportunity of which Williams has undoubtedly made the best (going back to the well for her scenes with Plummer couldn’t have been easy). If she cleans up at the Golden Globes and the Oscars, it will be well deserved. Whether her performance is enough to justify the ticket price is another story.

All the Money in the World opens nationwide on Friday January 5th


Also published on Medium.

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