‘All the Money in the World’: How to Disappear Kevin Spacey Completely
Ridley Scott’s last-minute scramble to replace Kevin Spacey with Christopher Plummer in his Getty family hostage drama pays off, especially in Michelle Williams’ rich performance.
I have to wonder if Ridley Scott's ballsy move of reshooting All the Money in the World weeks before its premiere so he could replace Kevin Spacey, recently engulfed in a sexual predator scandal, with Christopher Plummer was all for Michelle Williams. For all the drama surrounding the film, you'd think Spacey's role of Jean Paul Getty was extremely vital to the film. But he is, as it turns out, only vital as an adversary to Williams' Gail Getty and her vigorously emotional performance.
All the Money in the World is a dramatization of the real life kidnapping of Jean Paul Getty III. Getty III was 16 years old and living in Rome when he was kidnapped and held for months, due to his grandfather's refusal to pay the ransom. Scott, best known for his films like Blade Runner and Alien takes his penchant for dazzling, foreign landscapes and mixes it with the melodrama of his films that feature warring dynasties like Gladiator and American Gangster. It's a caper that's full of flashbacks, sumptuous Italian cinematography, and a grandiose yet austere mansion where senior Getty sits with his expensive paintings, glass of scotch, and roaring fireplace. It's the closest Scott will ever get to directing an episode of the original Dynasty, with his affluent players constantly besieged by malicious criminals and bloodthirsty paparazzos.
Just like the aforementioned soapy drama, Scott's drama thrives on a female protagonist who goes up against an unbeatable foe through sheer determination of will. Scott is no stranger to directing a woman who blazes through a film like a force of nature and Williams' Gail fits right alongside Ripley and Thelma and Louise in his filmography. It's rare that Scott delves into the psyche of a woman—his films tend to be masculine affairs—but the juxtaposition of tenderness and ferocity in All the Money in the World makes it more than a mere thriller, it turns it into a caper that hooks your heart.
It's been years since Williams found a melodrama like Brokeback Mountain to truly sink her teeth into. In a perfect world, Douglas Sirk would still be alive to cast her as the lead in one of his lush dramas (or Todd Haynes would find a better way to serve her talents than he did in Wonderstruck). Williams is a true successor to Sirk leading lady Jane Wyman; Williams even began her career on a primetime soap the way Wyman later in life joined Falcon Crest. That plucky, earnest, and troublesome heroine Williams portrayed on Dawson's Creek deserves better than the overtly masculine, tenderless emotion of a film like Manchester by the Sea or the dreary depression porn of Blue Valentine. Williams has often turned out emotionally resplendent performances, but with her previous accolade-earning roles like My Week with Marilyn, they've often felt like showy overcompensation for weak material.
Scott intuitively recognizes Williams' gifts and it's no wonder Plummer was his first choice to play senior Getty. According to The Hollywood Reporter, "sources familiar with the situation, [said] that Plummer was originally the first choice for the role, but top studio executives wanted a bigger name." Plummer's much more adept at benevolent wickedness than Spacey, who no doubt played Getty with the same drenched, syrupy Tennessee Williams Off-Broadway revival air he brings to all of his villainous roles. As the shadowy mentor in Baby Driver earlier this year, he was one of the exceptional film's weakest parts and it's a wonder if Williams' grit would've been well served opposite him. Also not for nothing, but during a Q&A after All the Money in the World's first press screening, Scott admitted that neither Spacey nor his reps bothered to reach out to him with so much as an apology after his scandal torpedoed his movie weeks before its release.
But no matter, one Hollywood scandal later and nine days of reshooting and Scott has delivered his heroine an actor who's worth her caliber. Plummer feels larger than life; he feels like the cold grip of the one-percent destroying even their family as they cling dearly to the wealth they've amassed for decades. When Williams first steps into the Getty mansion, that's when the film truly begins. It's only fitting that the final moment sees her back in that thunderdome, to give us one last lip quiver in a place she abhors yet is now intimately tied to—that's the money shot.