Christopher Plummer captivates in ‘All the Money in the World’
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You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch — I mean, Mr. Getty.
You’re a flinty, hard-eyed, coldhearted, nearly joyless penny pincher. You’re not only the richest man in the world, you’re the richest man who ever lived — and yet when your grandson is kidnapped and a ransom is demanded, you claim you have no money to spare and you refuse to pay a dime.
You’re a monster, Mr. Getty. And you’re the most entertaining and fascinating character in “All the Money in the World.”
In Ridley Scott’s well-paced, great-looking and nimble take on one of the most famous kidnapping cases of the 20th century, the legendary Christopher Plummer disappears into the role of the billionaire oil tycoon J. Paul Getty and delivers a powerful, magnetic, scene-stealing performance.
Plummer is playing someone we love to hate, and yet he infuses Getty with just enough humanity, just enough tragic (albeit self-inflicted) loneliness and unhappiness, we almost feel sorry for him even as we want to shake our fists at him for being such a miserable cuss.
This is no drop-in cameo. Plummer is in nearly two dozen scenes. He might not have as much screen time as Charlie Plummer (who is not related to Christopher Plummer) as the kidnapped teenager, John Paul Getty III; Michelle Williams as Abigail Harris, Paul’s mother, and Mark Wahlberg as Fletcher Chace, the security specialist tasked with bringing Paul home — but it is Christopher Plummer’s performance that resonates the strongest. Even when his character is off-screen, he casts a long shadow over everyone else’s actions.
And yes, the performance is all the more remarkable because Mr. Plummer was in essence asked to save this movie, which had been completed with Kevin Spacey as Getty before the multiple allegations of criminal sexual abuse by Spacey.
To the credit of the studio, the filmmakers and many prominent cast members, everyone agreed to a hasty reshoot, which cost a reported $10 million and took place over a series of 18-hour days.
And what a triumph for all concerned that if you didn’t know Spacey originally had been cast as Getty and you saw “All the Money in the World” as is, you wouldn’t notice the faintest ripple in the fabric of the film. It’s a good old-fashioned ripping yarn, based on an incredible true story, filled with fine acting and leaving us marveling at the enormous footprint J. Paul Getty left on the world — and shaking our heads at a man who seemed incapable of truly enjoying his staggering wealth and power, and unable to appreciate the true meaning of family.
Working from a script by David Scarpa, director Scott hops back and forth on the timeline — perhaps a little too frequently.
We get flashbacks to John Paul Getty’s business dealings with Arabian oil sheiks in the 1940s. We get domestic scenes set in the mid-1960s, when Getty’s estranged son John Paul Getty II (Andrew Buchanan) and his loving wife Gail (Michelle Williams) are raising a brood of adorable kids and seem to be deeply in love, despite having no money and despite John’s alcohol (and eventually substance) abuse.
And we learn about Wahlberg’s Fletcher Chace, a former black-ops spook who now handles the old man’s security, and so much more.
When Paul is kidnapped, it makes international news, but things take a bizarre twist when Getty refuses to pay the $17 million ransom. As Fletcher finds himself becoming increasingly sympathetic to Abigail (even though he’s on the old man’s payroll) and the months drag on, poor Paul is actually sold to an even nastier bunch of bad hombres — who cut off Paul’s ear and send it in the mail, warning they’ll continue to sending pieces of Paul if their demands aren’t met.
“All the Money in the World” is “inspired by real events,” and though most of the major developments indeed happened, there’s plenty of dramatic license, especially in the climactic final chapters. One dramatic (and totally fictional) flourish seems particularly unnecessary and cheapens the impact — but just a little.
For a time this movie will probably be best known for the behind-the-scenes drama. But the work itself deserves to endure as one of the better films of 2017.
TriStar Pictures presents a film directed by Ridley Scott and written by David Scarpa, based on the book “Painfully Rich” by John Pearson. Rated R (for language, some violence, disturbing images and brief drug content). Running time: 132 minutes. Opens Monday at local theaters.