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Plummer shines in ‘All the Money in the World’

January 3, 2018
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Sometimes the narrative surrounding a film threatens to supersede the film itself. The content and relative quality of the movie in question becomes secondary to a story about the movie’s process.

So it is with “All the Money in the World,” a dramatization of the real-life story of the kidnapping of John Paul Getty III, grandson to financial titan J. Paul Getty. But as rife with drama as that tale might be, it paled in comparison to the controversy that surrounded the film and the choices made to address that controversy.

Actor Kevin Spacey played the elder Getty in the movie as it was originally filmed, but following a slew of allegations of sexual assault and other misconduct, the decision was made to remove him from the film and replace him with Christopher Plummer. And despite an incredibly truncated timeline, director Ridley Scott managed to do just that while still sticking to the film’s announced release date.

In 1973, John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer, “The Dinner”) is living in Rome when he is abducted by a group seeking to ransom him for millions of dollars. He lives with his mother Gail (Michelle Williams, “The Greatest Showman”), but it is his father who is the reason he has been targeted. His dad is John Paul Getty Jr. (Andrew Buchan, TV’s “Broadchurch”), whose own father is not just the richest man in the world, but perhaps the richest man in the entire history of the world.

J. Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer) has amassed astonishing wealth over the course of his life, operating with a calculated shrewdness that triumphs over all other feelings and emotional connections. And so, rather than conceding the $17 million that the kidnappers seek, he instead enlists the assistance of one of his most trusted operatives, a former CIA agent with a shadowy past by the name of Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg, “Daddy’s Home 2”), to locate and retrieve the boy.

Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple. Months pass as the two sides furiously negotiate terms, leaving Gail to agonize over her missing son and John to wonder why his family is willing to let him remain in the filthy, greedy hands of his abductors. Chase does his best, but the circumstances lead his investigations down more than one dead end. And meanwhile, the elder Getty steadfastly refuses to pay the ransom, for personal reasons that become increasingly opaque and self-serving as time passes.

What follows is a deep look into the mindset of one of history’s wealthiest men by way of a tragedy in which he placed his own financial situation above even the safety of his own flesh and blood; Getty’s choices were always informed by the bottom line at the expense of all other things, no matter how precious.

“All the Money in the World” is a quality film. Director Ridley Scott is a talented filmmaker who has been making good movies for decades; he brings his talents to bear on this story and tells it in a compelling dynamic way, capturing the tone of the times in a visually engaging fashion. The writing is good and the cast is excellent.

But what we really need to talk about – the primary thing that almost everyone WANTS to talk about – is Christopher Plummer. Namely, how was he integrated into the movie so long after primary filming wrapped? Is this (kind of unprecedented) replacement process successful? What kind of performance was he able to give given the unfortunate circumstances surrounding his presence?

Short answers: “quite well,” “mostly yes” and “excellent,” respectively.

Yes, there are moments where you can see the seams a bit; you can occasionally tell that something was creatively shot and/or overdubbed and/or digitally altered in order to fit Plummer into the Spacey-shaped hole. But it isn’t distracting – really, if you’re not actively looking for it, you probably won’t see it. It’s a testament to the entire crew that it flows as well as it does.

It doesn’t hurt that Plummer is excellent as the imperious Getty. There’s a baleful self-possession to the performance that makes it fascinating to watch. He captures the confidence that comes with being the richest man in the world – as well as the interpersonal disconnect that such wealth inevitably causes. It’s a great performance made all the greater by knowledge of the circumstances under which it was undertaken.

Williams remains one of her generation’s most talented actors, yet she somehow still feels weirdly underrated. She’s quietly great here; it’s a turn that is a bit lost in the shadow cast by Plummer and the business surrounding him, but she’s as good as she always is. Wahlberg is fine – an odd choice, but he handles his business well enough. His character feels a bit plot device-y, but he manages well enough. Charlie Plummer does solid work as the kidnapped Getty, though he mostly just has to look scared and confused throughout. Meanwhile, the kidnappers themselves are largely interchangeable non-entities, though Romain Duris is a notable exception as the sympathetic Cinquanta.

“All the Money in the World” is a good movie that has received outsized attention for unfortunate reasons. It’s an interesting story that will likely always be overshadowed by the story surrounding it. Still, it’s worth seeing solely on its merits, with a top-tier team of actors and filmmakers offering up a generally successful effort.

[4 out of 5]

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