All the Money in the World (2017)

So…apparently Kevin Spacey, an actor I had a significant degree of respect for, for many years, is a sexual predator asshole who deserves the rapidly spiraling tail-spin his career is currently experiencing. The man is a pariah and as a result, his most recent projects, particularly Netflix’ ‘House of Cards’ and this film, Ridley Scott’s ‘All the Money in the World’ fell under the scrutiny of a disgusted movie-going public who weren’t sure the work of this one actor was something they now wanted to support, after the many credible allegations of sexual abuse. Wise man that he is, Producer / Director Scott realized that they had a solid historical thriller on their hands and that it wasn’t fair to all the others involved that the film be shelved for the trespasses of one member of the cast. Luckily Sony felt the same way and the decision was made, almost immediately, to correct the situation on their own terms.
I was still debating how I felt about Scott’s latest entry into the ‘Alien’ franchise, this years somewhat decent ‘Alien Covenant’, when the first trailer for ‘A.t.M.i.t.W’ popped up. I’d forgotten that Scott had said that he was planning on directing this script. Being that it seemed like ‘Covenant’ had JUST come out, I was amazed to see that only months later, Scott had another completed film in the pipe (like Spielberg, the man knows exactly what he’s doing to shoot fast and cut quickly). Any reader of past reviews will note that I’m a huge fan of the Scott brothers; Ridley and his younger brother, the late (great) Tony Scott. The visuals both directors have crafted over the years have impressed me to the point where I’ll watch pretty much anything with their names attached. On several occasions, I’ve told people “I’d watch a movie about fuckin’ plumbing, if one of those two directed it!”. That’s how I feel about their brand of film-making. Getting back to this movie, I liked what I saw in that first trailer. All of Scott’s trademark ‘slick grittiness’ was there on display, and I was excited about seeing another of his films in the theatre. That being said, there was one thing that stood out in the trailer…and that was Kevin Spacey. Now, this was just before the allegations against him come to light, but what jumped out at me was just how shitty the ‘old guy’ make-up looked. Seriously, I was reminded of the ‘Mason Verger’ character in Scott’s own 2001 flick, ‘Hannibal’, as played by Gary Oldman. In that film, the gruesome but plastic-looking make-up worked. Not here. Spacey looked like he was undeniably made-up…or was a burn victim. It looked surprisingly bad. Then…about a week later, the shit hit the fan for Spacey, and Scott Free / Sony mutually decided to thrown $10 million at nearly 2 weeks of reshoots…only ONE month before opening!! That’s a ballsy move and one virtually unheard of in Hollywood. I mean, reshoots are just a fact of life and The Biz in Tinsletown, but this was something new. A main character/actor was going to be completely erased and then replaced in a film that was completely finished and ready for distribution…completely. I’m willing to bet that damn near all directors / studios would’ve pushed the film’s release date back a number of months to re-plan, reshoot, and re-edit what they had…but this is Sir Ridley Scott. The man has been working in film almost his entire life (no bullshit). He knows what he’s doing, even if some of his films fall short of greatness (looking at YOU, ‘The Counselor’…you miserable piece of shit). The first thing he did was get in touch with the superb Christopher Plummer, who just happened to be Scott’s original casting choice, before studio pressure allegedly made him cast Spacey instead. He then reached out to lead actors Michelle Williams and Mark Wahlberg, who luckily happened to both be free in the proposed block of time for the hasty reshoots. So with lightning -like speed and precision, they all sprang back to work. Aside from just being a new Ridley Scott movie, it was this 11th hour change that really had me curious about this title, as I wanted to see if there would be anything present in the Finished Product that would betray the alterations.
‘All the Money in the World’ revolves around the real-life 1973 kidnapping and mutilation of 16 year old ‘Paul Getty’ (Charlie Plummer), one of the grand children of ‘John Paul Getty III’ (Christopher Plummer), arguably the richest man on the planet at the time, due to his many dealings with Middle Eastern oil. ‘Paul’s mother ‘Gail’ (Michelle Williams), who’s on the ‘outs’ with the Getty empire due to her bitter divorce from ‘JPG III’s drug-addict son, is pulled back in when the Italian kidnappers demand that she secure $17 million from the senior Getty for the safe return of the boy. Problem is…Getty is a selfish miser who sees paying the ransom as setting a precedent for other kidnappers and other grandchildren. ‘Gail’ is teamed up with ex-CIA operative ‘Fletcher Chase’ (Mark Wahlberg); a ‘fixer’ on Getty’s payroll who’s tasked with using his ‘contacts’ in Italy to bring the matter to a quiet and inexpensive solution. Together with Italian authorities, they work to bring ‘Paul’ home.
Ridley Scott is a fucking genius. For him to pull off what he pulled off with this film, is astounding. I didn’t realize just how much onscreen time was dedicated to ‘John Paul Getty III’. They refilmed something like 22 scenes, over about 10 days, for about $1 million per day. Christopher Plummer is magnificent, especially when you consider that he only had 2 weeks to prepare. In fact, the shit-show that Kevin Spacey’s career has become is something of a blessing for this film, actually. From the moment Spacey’s heavily (and obviously) made-up mug popped up in that first trailer, there was a ‘Nope’ vibe happening for me. Something was just not right (remember, the allegations hadn’t surfaced when I saw it yet, so it wasn’t that that made me weary). He just looked…phoney. Distractingly so. So being essentially forced to replace him with someone who was actually closer to the Real Life Getty’s true age, who (luckily) wouldn’t have to act through a pound of latex, was what the movie needed all along. Plus having a top –notch thespian like Plummer in your cast is ALWAYS a good thing. Supporting Plummer was Williams and Wahlberg, and they were both solid with their roles, especially Williams who nicely balanced maternal anguish and determination, as the desperate, fear-stricken mother scared for her child’s life. I was surprised to see Timothy Hutton (‘The Dark Half’) also turn up for an extended cameo as ‘Getty’s lead attorney. Hutton, for me, is always welcome. I’ve liked him for years. It was also amusing to note that it looked like Scott recycled half the cast from ‘Hannibal’, with familiar Italian faces popping up as both cops and crooks.
The story is pretty tight, sagging only a little in the Second Act and not having the big Hollywood ending that I half-expected they would’ve gone for (which was cool, as they set one up but veered away from it at the last minute). Just because it’s based on a True Story, doesn’t mean everything we’re shown really happened. Some artistic license was obviously taken, but they didn’t go overboard with it…like they could have. That being said, I liked the more subtle nature and execution of the story, especially in the character dynamic While all the interactions between Plummer, Willams and Wahlberg were effective, I was surprised by the oddly human connection between hostage ‘Paul’ and one of his kidnappers; a dirty-looking scumbag named ‘Cinquanta’ (Romain Duris). I liked that one of the abductors still viewed ‘Paul’ as a human being and tried to comfort him as best as he could…even when they were cutting one of the kids ears off (not a spoiler…it’s on the damn poster). The main focus of the film is the human drama stemming from the differing view points and priorities, but there are a couple decent scenes of intrigue and action, particularly a quick and bloody shoot-out when the Italian police storm a suspected hideout in the hills.
On a technical level…what can I say. It’s a Ridley Scott film. Having said that, I will say that some of his shots and scenes are shot with surprisingly low-light, and were color-timed to a depressing steel blue / grey motif, that I imagine was meant to convey the cold and impersonal nature of the subject matter. It worked for me, even though I wouldn’t have been opposed to a bit more ‘pop’ in the color / lighting scheme. I could see how some of the audience could find it overly bleak and, dare I say it, boring. Something else I noted, similar to what Scott did with ‘The Martian’ (2015), was he just let the story tell itself. This isn’t to say that the visuals weren’t great (cuz they were), but more to suggest he didn’t have to hide a weak story behind an abundance of grand ‘Ridley Scott’ imagery, like what I found he did with ‘Prometheus’ (2012) and ‘Alien Covenant’. Here, the acting and situations are the focus, not the epic compositions, and something about that worked for me.
The production design was expectedly top-shelf. I loved the gritty 1970’s atmosphere. The myriad of cool period props and costumes went a long way to back up the time-period that was so crucial as the back-drop. I seriously doubt I’ll ever get chance, but I would love to do a side-by-side comparison of Spacey’s and Plummer’s material, even just to compare the work put in to the backgrounds for the reshoots.
All in all, I was very impressed with how ‘All the Money in the World’ turned out, especially where the replacing of Kevin Spacey was concerned. The Christopher Plummer material cuts in perfectly, with the only indication of reshoots being that the shots where Plummer and Mark Wahlberg are interacting, you can tell that Marky Mark had shed weight in the time since principal photography had originally wrapped. There was also one shot, featured prominently in that first trailer, showing ‘Getty’ in the Middle East, where I could tell that they had literally erased Spacey and CG’d Plummer’s performance over top the original desert footage. If you didn’t know the story behind the scenes, you’d never know. The movie isn’t one of Scott’s best films, but it certainly isn’t his worst. It’s a solid entry that shows naysayers who shit on his recent additions to the beloved ‘Alien’ franchise (myself included) that the man, even at his advanced age, is still a force to be reckoned with as a filmmaker. When given a good script…he delivers a good movie. And ‘All the Money in the World’, in my opinion, certainly qualifies as a Good Movie. While it does have a few moments of ‘drag’ in the middle, overall it’s a tense, well-acted historical thriller that immerses you in the time period it takes place in. It’s not a ‘balls to the walls’ action flick but more of a character study born out of a dangerous and desperate situation where a human life is on the line and warped priorities add more danger to the scenario. I insisted on seeing this flick on The Big Screen, but that’s just because I’m a nerd who loves Ridley Scott movies. It does have some very nice cinematography (naturally), but it’s the story here that’s more important, therefore a recommendation more for a Netflix or Blu ray viewing is more appropriate, and on that level…I say seek it out, if you get the chance.

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