All the Money in the World (15)
Running time 2hr 12min
THE pathology of wealth (‘how those who have so much have so little’) has served as the intellectual catalyst of so much great cinema (Citizen Kane, American Psycho, Gosford Park), not least because it invites the discerning photographer into the gloomy, ornate corridors and eerily spotless boardrooms the filthy rich call their stomping grounds. It’s often impossible to tell whether such sagas are supposed to repel us or, with their borderline fetishistic eye for material grandeur, beguile us, like the softcore skin flicks of the ’70s which coated their titillation in a tacky moralism; regardless, there’s something viscerally compelling about these tales of fallen majesty when they’re done JUST RIGHT, a fact which probably explains the genre’s (?) endurance.
Of course, there’s no true-life tycoon as frightfully enigmatic as the person of John Paul Getty, the American oil magnate who, in 1973, notoriously refused to pay the ransom demanded of him by Calabrian mobsters in exchange for the release of his own grandson. Ridley Scott has set out to tell the story as a globetrotting crime drama, and All the Money in the World exhibits his usual proclivities for the bleakly beautiful, mostly biding its time between the exquisite murk of the English moors and the grubby splendour of sunny Italy, yet it’s a technical masterwork on another level – in the light of widespread allegations of sexual harassment, Kevin Spacey, originally slated to play Getty, was removed from the film six weeks prior to its general release and replaced with Christopher Plummer, Scott going to painstaking lengths to plumb all editing holes and reshoot every scene. While morally commendable and unspeakably ambitious, it was an executive decision that invited chaos – this sort of extensive post-production meddling has a near-universally poor track record (Heaven’s Gate, anyone? Alien 3?). But it’s well-executed here – this critic doubts the original ‘cut’ will ever see the light of day, but I’ll bet it plays just as seamlessly as this
In fact, the recast might well have salvaged the movie from an artistic (as well as an ethical) standpoint.
Whereas a prosthetic-addled Spacey looked feeble and baggy in previews, Plummer slides comfortably (if that’s the right word) into the role of Getty. The screenplay balances meticulous police procedural fare (dominatedby Mark Wahlberg’s convincing negotiator) with interludes in the old scion’s company; its genius is in its dialling-back the documentarian dimensions of the former thread so that the latter can run its course.
Plummer keeps us on our feet – we’re never quite sure whether Getty’s obstinance is down to malice, lunacy or mere principle. More disturbingly, the film suggests, it may have originated from his infatuation with the green stuff (tellingly, one sequence has him visit his drug-addicted son in Morocco); on paper, the notion may seem disingenuous, even downright facile, yet, when Scott has Getty wash his underwear in a hotel room bathtub, in a preposterous effort to scrimp and save, you really do begin to wonder…
All the Money in the World is undeniably at its best when Plummer’s on screen; while the action going on around him holds together well enough, the film has a tendency to move at an indulgent pace and really tries its luck with a climactic chase that feels like it’s been pulled from a totally different movie. These are but minor quibbles, however – after a few missteps, Ridley Scott has vindicated himself once again as a director of grown-up drama like no other.