All the Money in the World was not even on my radar before Kevin Spacey was removed from the finished film in the wake of numerous worrisome sexual harassment allegations. Shortly after the Spacey allegations came out, though, director Ridley Scott (The Martian, Alien) announced that all of Spacey's scenes would be reshot with Christopher Plummer (The Sound of Music, Beginners) assuming the role--one month before the film's release, which it still met. Did the film's quality get lost in the shuffle?
In short, no. All the Money in the World tells the true story (with some embellishments) of the kidnapping of John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer, Boardwalk Empire), grandson to legendary billionaire Mr. John Paul Getty, Sr. (Christopher Plummer; no relation) When the young Paul's kidnappers put him up for a $17 million ransom, it seems obvious to his mother Abigail (Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea) that the extravagantly wealthy Mr. Getty should take it upon himself to pay the expensive ransom--to him, it's chump change. But Mr. Getty refuses, and stubbornly stays so, even as the stakes get higher and the young Paul's life is on the line. With the help of Italian police and Mr. Getty's security advisor, former CIA op Fletcher Chase (Mark Whalberg, Patriots Day), Abigail resolves to save her son at whatever lengths possible.
This is a story of greed--money as the root of all evil. Mr. Getty's love of his money masks any semblance of love he may have for Paul. He refuses to pay the ransom yet spends extravagant millions on pieces of art and land development projects. He justifies his decision by saying that paying the terrorists' ransom would endanger the other grandchildren with similar schemes. In this, we can hate him and empathize with him, but as the film continues, it becomes disgustingly clear his top priority is preserving his billions. On the other side of the coin, Paul's kidnapper Cinquanta (Romain Duris, The New Girlfriend) appears to start to care for the boy as the film progresses, giving him chances to escape and stressing that he leave Rome as soon as possible. Yet the ransom never disappears, and he shows no regret for allowing Paul to be tortured mentally and physically in graphically disturbing ways.
The film, the crew, Ridley Scott, and the cast have to be commended. To reshoot a good chunk of the film and reedit it within a month was considered an impossible task, yet they pulled it off without a hitch. If someone was unaware of Spacey's previous involvement in the film, they would have no idea that this was not the original version. Christopher Plummer devilishly commands the screen as Mr. Getty. It is crazy to think he only looked at the script a month ago and produced this masterclass villain performance. Though he is unbelievably despicable, Plummer shows that there is a logic and sincerity to every word Getty speaks and every action Getty performs. For the past several months, I have been crossing my fingers that Sir Patrick Stewart would get a Best Supporting Actor nod for Logan, but seeing this film last night makes me believe this is Plummer's award to lose. The rest of the cast is also great. Whalberg is unusually understated as Chase, and Williams brings a quiet power and firm resolve to Abigail that makes us care for her desperation.
All the Money is not flawless. While there are incredibly tense moments, such as the torture scene, there are moments where the film waddles in a place where Paul's survival is not immediately at stake and his family has nothing to go off of to find him. The film introduces a wrinkle that questions the authenticity of the kidnapping, but I was not enough convinced of it, partially because the film does not show enough of the line of thinking that leads to this conclusion and because we are given the dramatic irony that the kidnapping is genuine. Dramatic irony can work for suspense, but the other storytelling elements at this point are not strong enough to make it work alone. The film understandably takes liberties with the real story, but I am disappointed that they do not focus on the psychological impact these events had on the real Paul. Doing so would have added more complexity to the sins of Mr. John Paul Getty and how an evil lust for money can destroy someone else's life in irreparable, nonphysical ways. Still, the film is gorgeously shot, marvelously performed, and captivating enough that the flaws, while not ignorable, do not detract from the strengths.
As it turns out, All the Money in the World is another flag of victory for the Weinstein effect. The film is unafraid to objectively call terrible men of power out on their wrongs; it simply shows them for who they are without overstating it through angles or lighting. By replacing one of those men despite the odds, it shows we do not need them and we will not tolerate them. Darn good pictures can and will be made without them. And Ridley Scott, at the ripe age of 80, is a freakin' beast for leading the charge with as much skill as he does.