In 1987, during post-production on his drama September, Woody Allen made the unprecedented decision to all but start from scratch on the picture, replacing stars Sam Shepard, Maureen O'Sullivan and Charles Durning with Sam Waterston, Elaine Stritch and Jack Warden, respectively. The result, while not a commercial success, marked one of Allen's most absorbing and richly performed dramas, with Stritch especially riveting in the role of family matriarch.
Fast-forward three decades and, amid sexual assault allegations toward All the Money in the World star Kevin Spacey, it was Ridley Scott in this precarious position of going back to do extensive reshoots, albeit not quite to the extent Allen did in '87. Spacey's scenes as oil tycoon J. Paul Getty were booted from the film as that old pro Christopher Plummer waltzed in to save the day and shoot the role over a mere nine days.
Plummer, I'm pleased to report, is in marvelous form as Getty, a feat made all the more remarkable by the time crunch to have this thing ready for a Christmas theatrical release. To boot, this role is no cameo - he graces the screen for well more than half an hour, instilling much-needed vitality into the proceedings, and clearly had a blast with the role.
Alas, when Plummer isn't front and center, All the Money in the World is an overwhelmingly ho-hum endeavor and certainly no September.
The picture opens on young John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer) being kidnapped by an organized crime regime in Rome. His mother Gail (Michelle Williams) reaches out to Getty Sr. to pay the ransom, which he promptly refuses to do, claiming it would only encourage his other grandchildren to be captured in exchange for Getty money. With her son's captors growing more savage over time, Gail works alongside Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg), a former CIA operative and Getty Sr.'s business manager, to devise a way of saving the young man without the assistance of his crusty grandfather.
A key and nearly fatal flaw of All the Money in the World is the young Getty is so thinly drawn by Scott, (Charlie) Plummer and screenwriter David Scarpa that it's tough to get all that emotionally invested in the proceedings. Williams is able to breathe a bit more life into her role, even with Scarpa's script doing her few favors. Wahlberg, on the other hand, is supreme dead weight, evidently having graduated from the Bruce Willis in The Bonfire of the Vanities School of Acting - "maybe I'll win an Oscar if I do nothing but simply throw on a pair of glasses!"
Ultimately, the sole reason to sit through this lengthy and often middling exercise is Plummer, who at least has some blood flowing through his veins and is able to wholly transcend Scott's unfocused direction and Scarpa's lame script. Spacey, I suspect, may have played Getty as camp, rendering the proceedings all but unwatchable. Plummer, on the other hand, is stunningly convincing. It's a tour de force turn that provides a hefty lift to this troubled production.
If only Scott had pulled an Allen, scrapped the entire picture and started over with a Getty biopic!