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Categories: Movie Reviews

Beset by a real-life scandal which overshadows even the fantastical real-life scandal within the film, Ridley Scott doesn’t just save All the Money in the World but elevates it.

Of all the directorial pillars of modern Hollywood (Spielberg, Cameron, Bigelow, Fincher etc.) the one whose brilliance is called into question most often is probably Ridley Scott.

He’s a tough nut to crack for some people because, similar to understated visionaries like Bigelow, he’s essentially a slave to his screenplays. Give him a good screenplay and he’ll make a good film, give him a weird screenplay and he’ll make a weird film, give him a boring screenplay and he’ll make a boring film. David Scarpa’s adaptation of John Pearson’s book “Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty” may never quite kick up a gear into brilliance but it is solid and, with a solid foothold, Ridley Scott can propel a talented cast and crew into their best possible work.

Michelle Williams is probably the most noticeably at-the-top-of-their-game, her paradoxically meek kind of strength reminiscent of her portrayal of Marilyn Monroe but, unchained from the burden of mimicry, able to branch off into a more original kind of character. Almost comparable to Harrison Ford’s highly emotional and beleaguered father figure who will do anything to get his loved one back. The unavoidable solar giant of the film’s system is of course, however, Christopher Plummer and his portrayal of J. Paul Getty. Even beyond his position within the film’s narrative, no audience member can ignore his presence due to circumstances of his casting and the work that Plummer accomplishes with Scott is rightly the stuff of modern industry legend (Plummer was cast, and shot all of his scenes, over the course of nine days which took place one month before the release of the film due to recent allegations made against the film’s original Getty, Kevin Spacey, and his subsequent erasure from the project).

Both disturbingly magnetic and remarkably vulnerable, a stand-in Plummer most certainly is not and throughout the course of his performance he earns the audience’s respect as an understudy who seized their opportunity and responsibility. That is All the Money in the World’s most praiseworthy attribute, which is in no way a consolation prize either: its sense of duty.

Scott is someone who embraces the pure essence of being a film director, which is not to endeavour to prove yourself a genius but rather to be a manager of geniuses. His drive, at age 80, to ensure that the work of his crew did not just simply fade away (All the Money in the World is a topical awards contender and it’s very unlikely that their would ever come a time when the original cut with Spacey would be deemed fit for audiences) is phenomenal not only for its precision and its scope (among others, you feel the grandiose of Welles and Lean) but because of its unflinching confidence in that work from those people that Scott surrounded himself with in the first place.

From the opening scene, where Charlie Plummer’s J. Paul Getty III strolls down the streets 1973 Rome, it’s hard not to see the lovingly precise recreation of Fellini in the cinematography and production design of Scott loyalists Dariusz Wolski and Arthur Max; and, even setting aside the fact that an entirely new set of takes with a different actor playing one of the principal characters had to be edited into an already finished film a few weeks before releasing it, Claire Simpson’s editing provides a sense of order and grace to Scarpa’s somewhat overdramatized structuring of events. Something which Scott allows you to move past in the story by allowing the actors to bring focus to the themes within that screenplay. There are a lot of moments that get played for laughs in All the Money in the World, perhaps a lot more than you think, and they almost always highlight the film’s main themes about the ultimate impotence of wealth.

There’s something that Christopher Plummer also adds to the overall film beyond just his actual performance and the daring amount of frailty that he brings to the character of J. Paul Getty (while it’s a shame that the work of makeup and prosthetics artists that transformed Spacey into Getty was ultimately lost, there’s something incomparable about an old person playing an old character; especially when their age is integral to their character). This is in relation to a running theme throughout the film regarding a placement of value for inanimate objects, specifically art and art which simulates humanity, above actual human life and, when considering the striking change of actors and why that change occured, it becomes incredibly more powerful to see J. Paul Getty’s fixation on purity and innocence, particularly regarding selfish desires which revolve around young boys and being immortalised through art, fully realised in several key scenes throughout the film.

Scenes such as those not only add an entirely new dimension to the film, which would have been unbearably horrifying to see coming from Spacey but become poignant in the hands of Plummer, they sum up the film’s overall value. These scenes could have easily been cut, the film itself could have been cut. Turning in an unfinished, or dismembered, final cut of this film somewhere down the road would have seemed like the easier option to a lot of directors but not to Ridley Scott. Instead, through sheer force of will and the utmost professionalism, he turned out one of the most accomplished and striking films of the year. In this day and age, that’s worth quite a lot.

All the Money in the World is out now in cinemas.

Mark Birrell

Mark is the editor of The Spread as well as a freelance copywriter and lifelong cinephile. For writing enquiries, you can email him at mark@cinemajam.com and you can follow him on Twitter @markwbirrell

Posted on Jan 21, 2018

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