It's almost too bad Ridley Scott and his cast pulled off one of the most amazing feats of modern cinema, replacing a key part with a new actor and doing eight days of reshoots a month before scheduled release. It practically overshadows how great All the Money in the World actually is.
It may have even made it better. Let's just set aside, for a moment, the politics of Kevin Spacey's massively misguided response to allegations of sexual harassment, which single-handedly may have tanked this movie's chances at the box office if no changes have been made. It's not hard to find photos online of him as J. Paul Getty, having undergone hours of makeup to look like an old man. Shady behavior notwithstanding, Spacey is objectively a very talented actor, and likely played the part well; the makeup job is even decent. But, when compared to how Christopher Plummer actually looks as a real old man in the part, Spacey winds up looking a little ridiculous.
It's a bit of a mystery why Spacey was hired for the part to begin with. Plummer had already been considered for the part but had scheduling conflicts during the original shoot -- but still, surely there are other older working actors who could have fit the bill without having to spend so much time and energy on prosthetics? Ian McKellen, maybe?
Well, Christopher Plummer wound up available after all, when reshoots were decided upon at the last minute -- and thank God for that. All of Spacey's scenes -- and there was a lot -- were re-shot, many of them including Mark Wahlberg and Michelle Williams, who traveled to shoot on location over Thanksgiving week. These details shouldn't matter to the end result, necessarily; the film truly stands on its own. But it's all the more impressive with the knowledge that so much was done so late in the game so quickly, because such things can derail any film production. In this case, it clearly enhanced it -- all scenes with Christopher Plummer are integrated seamlessly, and the editor in particular, Claire Simpson, should be commended.
All that said, the performances in All the Money in the World deserve more focus than they are getting, what with all this behind the scenes drama taking up the media ink -- which even I am doing right here. Plummer has never been better, here depicting a man who, at the time, was the richest man in the history of the world -- and, essentially, more of a heartless monster than the criminals who kidnapped his grandson.
Even better is Michelle Williams as Getty's ex-daughter-in-law, mother to the kidnapped grandson, John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer -- no relation). Williams has a history of great performances, and this ranks among her best. Without knowing how accurate it was -- how many people actually knew Gail? -- she nails the accent, and truly disappears into the role. More than once I watched her onscreen and marveled at how good her performance was, and that does not happen often.
The story itself, of course, is pretty sensational, and somewhat necessarily gleans over what would have been the lasting trauma to young Paul. This was the grandson of the richest man in the world, kidnapped for ransom, and the man who had the money struck with the tenets of not negotiating until the kidnappers did something pretty horrible to him. This is all public information so it's not exactly secret, but I still won't spoil it. Just be warned: what happens to Paul is depicted onscreen, and it is both brutal and disturbing.
What makes this story the most compelling, however, is that J. Paul Getty's response to and attitude about all this is arguably even more disturbing. Early on, we get a couple of vital flashbacks regarding Gail's divorce from Getty's semi-estrange, drug addict son (Andrew Buchan). The elder Getty can't understand why Gail doesn't want money and only wants full custody of the children -- and his perception of her taking the children from him fuels years of resentment. But this is how unlimited riches warp a person's mind: if he loved his grandchildren so much, why would he be so callous in this situation? They say that blood is thicker than water, but resentment is even thicker.
There is slight disappointment in the way Ridley Scott ends this story -- there is no way the real story ended so tidily and dramatically. Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg), the deal maker Getty hires to find his grandson's kidnappers, winds up playing a key role in getting young Paul Back, with several key characters crossing paths in a chase at the end -- including a particular captor with a developed affection for the boy. Wahlberg plays the part well, but it's all storytelling just a bit too convenient, and honestly his part in particular is ultimately the least consequential.
Regardless, All the Money in the World is riveting from start to finish, filled with suspense and intrigue, stunningly well put together for something that had to be taken apart and put back together again in such short order. You'd never know it just to see the finished film itself, which is executed with truly rare finesse.