History rewritten: 'All the Money in the World' is saved by its revision

Christopher Plummer (left) and Mark Wahlberg star in TriStar Pictures’ ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD. (Photo: TriStar/Sony)

All the Money in the World
4 out of 5 Stars
: Ridley Scott
Writer: David Scarpa, John Pearson (based on the book by)
Starring: Michelle Williams, Christopher Plummer, Mark Wahlberg, Charlie Plummer
Genre: Biography, Crime, Drama
Rated: R for language, some violence, disturbing images and brief drug content

Synopsis: In 1973, Paul Getty, the grandson of the richest man in the world, is kidnapped and held for ransom. Jean Paul Getty, his grandfather, refuses to pay.

Review: Let’s briefly visit the story behind the story of “All the Money in the World.” At one point in time Kevin Spacey played the role of Jean Paul Getty, the billionaire grandfather of a kidnapped teen. When multiple sexual assault allegations came to light against Spacey the decision was made to completely replace Spacey with Christopher Plummer. The film had wrapped at this point and was scheduled for release in two months. Actors had moved on to new projects, put on the face of new characters and moved on. Once director Ridley Scott convinced Christopher Plummer to take the role, the cast and crew were brought in to reshoot Spacey’s scenes. This was a considerable effort, to say the least.

The fact that “All the Money in the World” is being released on December 25th, 2017, only three days behind schedule, is something of a miracle. A miracle that wouldn’t mean much if the film proved forgettable. Fortunately, there’s some substance to this thriller.

I’m just young enough to not know of anything about Jean Paul Getty beyond the fact that I’ve visited the museum in Los Angeles that wears his name. I didn’t know about his gutsy deals to secure oil rights in the Middle East or that he was notoriously shrewd when it came to spending his massive wealth.

The story begins with the abduction of teenage Paul Getty (Charlie Plummer) in Italy before stepping back in time to explain the family’s history.

There’s a nice brevity to David Scarpa’s adaptation of John Pearson’s book as we trace the origins of Jean Paul Getty, his wealth and his cold emotional distance he took with his family. Long before the kidnapping of young Paul, this is a tragedy. Not so much for Jean Paul Getty, but for those who surround him. Yet, in time, Scarpa’s script and Christopher Plummer’s performance help to make the man more accessible than you might expect. Infinite wealth, it would seem, sometimes comes with infinite problems.

The story is essentially split into three camps. We see Paul with his kidnappers and the day to day of Jean Paul Getty’s world, but the focus is primarily on Gail Harris (Michelle Williams), Paul’s mother, as she tries to convince her grandfather (by marriage) to pay to have her son released. Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg) serves as a go-between for Jean Paul Getty and Harris.

Paul, Hail and Fletcher all have complete story arcs and by film’s end you’ll look a little differently at Getty.

It has been said that F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” was simply a good book until it went through a dramatic revision. Scott’s “All the Money in the World” isn’t on the same level as Fitzgerald’s classic novel, but there are similarities. Based on what little footage I saw of Spacey’s performance, I can comfortably assert that Plummer should have been cast from the very beginning. Spacey’s prosthetics were incredibly distracting, far more so than what Gary Oldman wears in “Darkest Hour.” I also can’t imagine Spacey bringing any sense of warmth to the character. Getty is despicable on many levels, but he is also human and somewhere deep beneath his iron shell is a heart that beats; a heart that occasionally loves in its own way.

“All the Money in the World” is a historical film because of the unusual circumstances that surround it. It’s also quite good, albeit not nearly the masterpiece that we know Scott is capable of. It showcases the love and care that goes into a film and how a team of filmmakers will rally to make sure a film is judged on its own merits and not the behavior of one the hundreds that worked on it.

Christopher Plummer is great and provides a performance that I don’t think Spacey would have been capable of. Williams is predictably strong, rarely feeling like a victim, but never feeling like an empty or cold vessel either and Romain Duris, who plays Cinquanta, a conflicted kidnapper, also provides a noteworthy performance. Wahlberg doesn’t quite rise to the level of his co-stars, but never proves to be a distraction. Charlie Plummer shows range as he shifts from being a curious and cheeky teen into a nearly-broken hostage.

Scott made the right, possibly only, decision he could to save the film. Spacey had to be scrubbed. In the process Scott found a performance from Christopher Plummer that is the strongest aspect of his film. Plummer has a Golden Globe nomination and its likely an Oscar nomination will follow. It's deserved. Not just because he was able to complete a month's worth of work into 9 days, but because he is able to bring a sense of humanity and vulnerability to a man who seemingly has neither of the two.

“All the Money in the World” is a very good film; possibly better than it could have been if scandal didn’t insist that Kevin Spacey be completely erased from the movie. If you’re looking for a based-on-truth thriller that proves to be something different for the genre, then, boy, do I have a movie for you.

“All the Money in the World” is in theaters December 25, 2017

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