My favorite aspect of film is casting. I love finding out who was originally slated to play Hannibal Lecter, what unlucky soul got dropped from Back to the Future, who might have made a better Joker other than Ledger. However, I don’t think the question of casting has been so important as with All the Money in the World.
The film was going to get its fair share of attention, with a Christmas season release date, and a cast of Michelle Williams, Mark Wahlberg, Kevin Spacey, and Ridley Scott. All of that changed with the sexual assault allegations against Spacey. The scandal left Scott with a massive decision, a decision I’ll give my thoughts on later. Ultimately, he casted Christopher Plummer in place of the filth that is Spacey.
The film itself is fairly simple. It’s a biopic about the kidnapping John ‘Paul’ Getty III in 1973. All the Money in the World opens with Paul walking down a Parisian street. Scott chooses to start the film in black-and-white then slowly transition to color (Scott could be doing this to stylize the dating). We’re then greeted to Paul’s (Charlie Plummer, no relation to Christopher Plummer) voice narrating what it means to be a Getty, “We look like you, but we’re not like you.” Charlie Plummer plays Paul, initially, as a cocky rich kid, unaware of his surroundings. Later, as he’s held in captivity by his kidnappers, he’s still mostly a spoiled rich kid. In a film of great performances, Charlie Plummer’s might stick out as fairly one note. However, his sequences are often the most exciting, as he devises ways to escape.
While Paul is the entree, the main courses are his mother, Gail Harris (Michelle Williams) and Getty’s security expert, ex-CIA agent, Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg). The action revolves around them as they methodically negotiate with one of the kidnappers, Cinquanta (Romain Duris), for the safety of Paul, and Getty, for the money he’s unwilling to depart with.
Throughout the casting controversies, Williams has been somewhat lost in the shuffle. She does a stellar job, as a shrewd negotiator against Getty. She’s the only person in the film who really knows how Getty ticks. In a film about money, she’s the only one who sees very little value in money. That sentiment is different from how we’re introduced to her, as she goads her husband, John Paul Getty Jr. (Andrew Buchan), into making contact with his estranged father. Her husband says, “You never want to be poor.” That changes quickly, as her husband develops a drug habit and she needs to divorce him. By that point, she only wants custody of her children (no alimony). Williams plays Gail as strong, defiant, and intuitive.
On the other hand, Wahlberg plays Chase as a ‘yes-man.’ Chase has found a good thing being Getty’s security adviser, and he doesn’t want to mess it up. As the film progresses, Chase sees Getty for what he is, greedy. This is a man who had a payphone installed in his mansion so he could charge his guests for making calls. The only disappointing portion of Wahlberg’s character is he offers little payoff. We know that his specialty is “negotiations,” but barring one scene, we rarely see that talent (though that one scene is very important).
The best part of All the Money in the World is Christopher Plummer. Plummer had 9 days to shoot his parts. He had no time for research, and he didn’t watch Spacey’s scenes. He essentially rolled onto set and shot his parts, nothing else. Watching the film, I don’t know how he did it (probably because he’s a wizard of some kind). Getty could have easily been a shrill cold piece of shit. Instead, Plummer brings a warmness to the role. We do empathize with Getty as he describes how much he values objects because people can’t be trusted (they’re only after his money). Those lines delivered by a lesser actor could have been apathetic. They could have been one dimensional. Plummer is capable of raising the empathy, being funny, loving, and downright scared.
From the reports that we’ve heard, originally, Spacey’s interpretation of Getty was cold in nature (Spacey being cold to the troubles of abuse and kidnapping doesn’t seem like much of a stretch). I can’t believe Scott didn’t choose Plummer from the very beginning. It’s difficult to ever know how good Spacey’s performance was because we only have the trailer, but even if we only judge the trailer, Spacey does seem cold and rigid. Part of that is the over the top prosthetics. Plummer, being 88, brings an organic aspect to the role that it probably lacked under Spacey. When the Golden Globes were announced, and Plummer was given a Supporting Actor nomination, it was a surprise to many. Having watched the film, it shouldn’t be a surprise. Plummer deserved the nomination separate of the events surrounding the film, and especially when those events are taken into account.
This brings me to Scott. Not only did Scott do the right thing by jettisoning the piece of filth that is Spacey, he did it before everyone else. Recounting the events before the firing, when Scott let go off Spacey, it was the very beginning of the scandal. No one knew how much worse it would or could get. Scott could have very easily delayed the release date, hoped the scandal would blow over, and release the film the next year. That would have been the easy way. Heck, if he had taken that route he would have had more time to do re-shoots (possibly for less money).
Instead, while Netflix were trying to pump every last dollar from House of Cards, Scott took action. He did the hard thing, but the right thing. He fired Spacey. Not only did he fire Spacey, but he had the balls to keep to his release date. Scott probably won’t be nominated for Best Director, but he should definitely be in consideration. First, because All the Money in the World is a good movie. Second, because it’s a miracle he got through re-shoots so quickly without sacrificing quality. But mostly, Scott should receive a nomination because he showed the other men in Hollywood what backbone really looks like.
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Photo Credit: DarkMatterofLove