Thursday, December 28, 2017

In Theaters: ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD (2017)

(US - 2017)

Directed by Ridley Scott. Written by David Scarpa. Cast: Michelle Williams, Christopher Plummer, Mark Wahlberg, Romain Duris, Timothy Hutton, Charlie Plummer, Marco Leonardi, Andrew Buchan, Stacy Martin, Giuseppe Bonifati, Andrea Piedimonte, Nicolas Vaporidis, Charlie Shotwell, Guglielmo Favilla, Clive Wood, Giulio Base, Riccardo de Torrebruna. (R, 132 mins)

Regardless of how the film turned out, it's inevitable that ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD, a chronicle of the 1973 kidnapping of 16-year-old oil heir Paul Getty, will be remembered most for its role in "#MeToo" phenomenon and the epidemic of sexual assault and misconduct allegations that rocked the entertainment industry in the fall of 2017, beginning with the downfall of Harvey Weinstein. Approximately six weeks before the Christmas release date, director Ridley Scott made the decision to remove Kevin Spacey from the completed film following numerous disturbing allegations against the Oscar-winning actor. Cast as billionaire J. Paul Getty and essaying the role under a ton of prosthetic makeup that rendered him unrecognizable, Spacey was already set as the focus of the film's big awards season push. As more accusers came forward detailing incidents with Spacey dating back to the 1980s, Scott feared that the growing scandal would only prove toxic and potentially lead to the shelving of the film and everyone's hard work being all for naught. In order to save the project, he then made the decision to cut all of Spacey's scenes and brought in Christopher Plummer--his original choice before distributor Sony pushed for Spacey--for some burning-the-midnight-oil reshoots that took place from November 20 to November 29, 2017. This decision also required stars Michelle Williams and Mark Wahlberg to rearrange their schedules in order to redo their Getty scenes with Plummer, and the stitches show only slightly: only in one shot does it look like Plummer's been composited into an existing scene, and in his new scenes with Plummer, Wahlberg is clearly wearing a wig and, perhaps in the middle of prepping for another role, looks noticeably thinner in the face. Late-in-the-game cast changes have happened before, for a variety of reasons: the eventually blacklisted Howard Da Silva starred in the completed 1951 western SLAUGHTER TRAIL before RKO ordered his scenes cut and reshot with Brian Donlevy after Da Silva was accused of communist leanings and refused to testify before HUAC; when Tyrone Power died 2/3 of the way through filming the 1959 Biblical epic SOLOMON AND SHEBA, his footage was scrapped and Yul Brynner was hired to reshoot all of his completed scenes. These are but two instances of quick decisions being made to save a film, but the time element makes ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD something noteworthy (and, it's worth mentioning, easier to pull off in the age of digital). The complete removal of a major star due to a scandal, so close to the release date that said scandal is still ongoing in real time as the film hits theaters is unprecedented. And for the most part, the legendary filmmaker--80 years old and showing no signs of slowing down--pulled it off.

Scott and screenwriter David Scarpa take some liberties with the facts for dramatic purposes, sometimes detrimentally so, but it's an overall engrossing saga of the ordeal of Paul Getty (Charlie Plummer, no relation to Christopher), who's abducted and held for ransom by a terrorist group in Rome. They demand $17 million, assuming a quick and easy payday since Paul's grandfather is oil tycoon J. Paul Getty, the richest man in the world. Getty can make $17 million on a good day, but he's also the most miserly man in the world, the kind of penny-pincher who has a pay phone installed in his house for guests to use, with a sign advising them to keep their calls brief. Everything is a deal to Getty and he never loses, and his first assumption is that Paul staged the kidnapping himself in order to extort money since Paul often joked about doing just that. Getty's also in no hurry to help his estranged daughter-in-law Gail Harris (Williams), who divorced his son John Paul Getty II (Andrew Buchan) several years earlier and received custody of Paul and their other three children. With Getty II now a borderline catatonic drug addict wiling away his days in Morocco, it's up to Gail to manage the negotiations with the kidnappers. She gets some assistance from ex-CIA agent and J. Paul Getty fix-it man Fletcher Chase (Wahlberg), who's been advised by the old man to retrieve his grandson and do it as cheaply as possible. Since Gail has no access to the Petty fortune--she agreed to take no cash settlement in the divorce in exchange for full custody of the kids--Paul is held captive for months due to Getty's unbending refusal to pay a single cent, and the boy is even sold to another group of kidnappers led by wealthy "investor" Mammoliti (Marco Leonardi), who eventually decides to send Paul's severed ear to a Rome newspaper in order to convince Getty that they're serious. And even then, the ruthless billionaire--who's in the midst of making the biggest profits of his life thanks to the oil crisis--only agrees to pay a significantly lesser sum once he and his lawyer Oswald Hinge (Timothy Hutton) finagle a way to make it tax-deductible.

Kevin Spacey as J. Paul Getty

Christopher Plummer as J. Paul Getty

Original poster art prior
to Spacey being cut from the film
As portrayed here by a sneering and subtly sinister Plummer, Getty is nothing short of a monster who would rather put his grandson at risk if the alternative is parting with any of his money (while the hostage negotiation is going on, he thinks nothing of dropping $1.5 million on painting). Spacey's removal from ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD is probably the best thing that could've happened: initial trailers showing the actor weighed down by unconvincing makeup would've ultimately been viewed as a distraction and Oscar-baiting stunt casting. By contrast, 88-year-old Plummer plays the 81-year-old Getty with no makeup, letting you see the condescension and the unscrupulous disregard for humanity come through in the decades visible on his face. He's perfectly cast and ultimately, the best thing in the movie. Young Charlie Plummer does some solid work as Paul, and his scenes with sympathetic kidnapper Cinquanta (Romain Duris) also provide some of the film's strongest moments. Wahlberg and Williams are less convincing--Wahlberg because he doesn't so much play Chase as much as he does a stock "Mark Wahlberg" character (the scene where he finally tells off Getty feels a little too "say hi to your mother for me"), and Williams because she's uncharacteristically mannered here, with actions and vocal inflections that too often sound like she's using the film to workshop a mid-career Katharine Hepburn impression. Scott's manipulation of the time element gets eye-rollingly melodramatic by the end, which crescendos into a ludicrous finale that has Getty dying at the very moment his grandson is rescued, which has no resemblance whatsoever to the reality where Getty died nearly three years later in 1976. Despite the occasional missteps, ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD gets a lot right, particularly the mood and feel of 1973 Italy, a tumultuous time that saw increased crime and Red Brigade-related terrorism take over the country. But really, the biggest reason to see it is for someone who wasn't even in it until about a month before its release. The ageless Christopher Plummer is a living legend, and on the shortest notice imaginable, created one of the most vivid and memorable characters of his long and storied career.

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