“All the Money in the World” is best known now for the staggeringly impressive way director Ridley Scott recast one of the film’s leads (Kevin Spacey as J. Paul Getty) after numerous sexual harassment and assault allegations were made against Spacey, then reshot all of Spacey’s character’s scenes within nine days, meeting its planned release date. Plummer was apparently Scott’s first pick for the role anyway, Spacey being chosen due to the studio’s preference for a more well-known actor in the part. Scott is an extremely practised and efficient professional, and the way he committed to removing Spacey from the film and reshooting so many scenes (Spacey’s part wasn’t small, he’s the second credited character and absolutely one of the leads) in such a short amount of time is breathtaking. Plummer’s performance doesn’t feel rushed or phoned-in at all either, it’s easily one of the greatest strengths of the film, perhaps its greatest strength…he balances all the complicated nuances of J. Paul Getty brilliantly.
But taken in a vacuum and ignoring the incredible circumstances behind the film’s final release, it’s still a strong work from Scott (now eighty yet managing to direct two films in 2017, and one every year or two before that), a cold thriller refreshingly disinterested in sentimentality, more interested in exploring money. The thematic throughlines of the film all deal with money – money as a joke, a fraudulent non-entity given value by people not in the joke of its unreality (it’s no coincidence Gail “Getty”, the woman with the Getty name but none of the Getty power and wealth, is the one to recognise how much of a joke the nature of money is), and money as a gravity-bending black hole, an avatar for whatever absence defines someone’s life.
The script smartly focuses less on the melodrama and sentimentality that flow easily off the film’s true-to-life premise (richest man in the world J. Paul Getty’s grandson is kidnapped, he refuses to pay the ransom, the grandson’s mother and a detective of sorts try to get the grandson back to safety), and more on the ratcheting tension of the whole affair as the ransom goes unpaid longer and longer, as well as the strange psychology behind the Getty family and how their vast fortune affects the temperaments of those that interact with them. A cooler, dispassionate take on the story of course suited Scott’s style, and his strong visual focus serves the movie well, the film’s lighting (credit to Dariusz Wolski) and production design (credit to Arthur Max) brought to life captivatingly through Scott’s vision.
Mark Wahlberg is the only real misfire in the cast, he’s serviceable but limp in the part. Luckily Michelle Williams is in most of his scenes, and she excels, burning her way through the role with emotional precision. Interestingly, for the film’s extensive reshoots, William’s took only $800 as per diems, whereas Wahlberg negotiated for $1.5 million. The reshoots ultimately cost a fifth of the film’s total budget; ten million. For all the film’s focus on money, the behind-the-scenes interplay with money, it’s overshadowed by the skill of those most important in its creation. Three and a half newspapers, and a ransom.