It doesn’t matter how many awards Ridley Scott’s film about the famous kidnap of the oil tycoon John Paul Getty’s grandson picks up, it is destined to be remembered for only one thing: the movie star who didn’t appear in it.
It is called All The Money In The World, but you can’t help feeling you’re watching another picture, Kevin Spacey’s Ghost.
The disgraced actor’s presence is palpable, even though every shred of visual evidence he ever existed in the film, lays crumpled up on the cutting room floor.
He played John Paul Getty, the richest man in the world, before the grisly accusations against him of sexual harassment started.
Overnight he went from A-list star to box office poison, leaving the expedient Scott with little choice but to re-shoot Spacey’s 22 scenes with another actor playing the octogenarian billionaire.
Enter 88-year-old Christopher Plummer, who with little notice and only nine filming days, takes the role by the scruff of its neck and delivers a Getty that is detached, malevolent, and – at times – vulnerable.
He does a good job, a great job even, given the circumstances. But he lacks a ruthless coldness that really drives home the film’s message, which is just how shocking the corruption of the human soul can be, when overwhelmed by enormous wealth and power.
And that is a problem.
The Spacey scenes might have been reshot at the last minute, but the whole film wasn’t remade.
It is therefore his original, colder performance that sets the tone for how the other actors – most particularly the excellent Michelle Williams, as the kidnapped boy’s desperate mother – react to his actions in many of their own scenes.
So although Spacey isn’t ever physically in shot, his presence is.
Which is jarring, because the ensemble are playing against a much nastier Getty than the one we see. So, for instance, the level of aversion and disgust Williams’ character has for her former father-in-law, which, over time is shared by his security guy, (a bland Mark Wahlberg), never quite rings true.
Plummer’s Getty is approachable; you sense he could be prevailed upon.
Whereas Scott says Spacey played him harder.
And we know from recent performances in Baby Driver and House of Cards the chilly nastiness the actor can summon from within.
You would think callousness is a necessary character trait for a kidnapper, but not in the case of Cinquanta (Romain Duris), in this movie.
He is the crook with more heart than the man, from whom he is trying to extort $17million (who is the real baddie sort of thing). While Getty refuses to pay a penny of his 16-year-old grandson’s ransom (Charlie Plummer – no relation to Christopher), Cinquanta experiences a reverse Stockholm syndrome and starts to look tenderly over the cocky teenager, he grabbed from the streets of Rome and imprisoned.
He does ok.
You warm to him as he warms to the boy, but he plays the part too much like a spaghetti western cliché baddie, cheroot and all.
His performance is indicative of the film overall, which is good in parts, but never gets anywhere near the heights of past Ridley Scott classics such as Alien, Blade Runner, or Thelma & Louise.
The first half flits around, all over the place, like a fly looking for somewhere to settle.
It starts with the kidnap in 1973 in an Antonioni-like Italian evening scene, nips over to druggy Marrakesh in the 60s, goes back to Saudi Arabia in the 40s where Getty made his oil fortune, and then jumps forward to 1971 San Francisco.
Priming the canvas is all well and good, but it pales after an hour of short, superficial establishing vignettes.
The second hour is much better.
After all, there’s been far too much dithering. The gangland leader knows what to do.
The young lad is going to have to lose his ear, to get things moving.
From the moment the creepy Mafiosi doctor enters the fray with his scalpel and chloroform, to undertake his dastardly deed, the movie ratchets up several notches.
Suddenly it’s all action.
The focus narrows, the tension builds; we have lift off.
The final thirty minutes are very good.
All The Money In The World is a parable about the shortcomings of great wealth and power. They can’t buy you peace of mind. Nor, as we find out, can they protect you from bad people and the ugly side of life.
It is a film about a cause célèbre, that has become its own cause célèbre.
It will become as notorious as its protagonist’s tight-fistedness. Money and power and an entitled man behaving badly are the uniting theme.