Dir: Ridley Scott
Nominated for: Best Supporting Actor (Christopher Plummer)
Ridley Scott is famous for making movies in brilliantly imagined future worlds like that of Alien & Blade Runner, but really he should be known as a director that likes to build world’s of a bygone era. Ridley’s first feature The Duellists, a stunningly shot saga of a never ending Napoleonic era sword fight / grudge of which Harvey Keitel is one half of, is beautifully rendered. So beautifully in fact the feather in hat, rapier wielding drama rather bizarrely got him the job on Alien. Following Ridley’s 3 film dabble with Sci Fi & fantasy between 79 & 85 (the fantasy being the pre-dentistry Tom Cruise in the outlandish Legend) Ridley returned to films about the present day in the late 80s with two contemporary police thrillers in Someone To Watch Over Me (a sulky Tom Berenger), and Black Rain (a neon drenched Michael Douglas), before hitting his populist stride again with 1991’s popcorn “feminist” classic Thelma & Louise. Following that commercial success it seemed Ridley wanted to paint on a larger and larger canvas with offerings such as 1492: Conquest of Paradise, with Gerard Depardieu as Christopher Columbus (Yes! Really!) voyaging across the vast oceans to “discover” America, Gladiator‘s Russell Crowe smashing box office records and as well as Joaquin Phoenix’s approval rating as emperor of Rome, the large ensemble cast real life military drama of Black Hawk Down, the outrageously epic crusades tale of Kingdom Of Heaven, the dodgy accents of Robin Hood and the just plain dodgy of Exodus: Gods and Kings. Ridley likes to delve into the past to create vast, densely detailed worlds. Occasionally however Ridley can be coaxed into the more recent past when a good yarn takes his fancy.
All The Money In The World is the tale of J. Paul Getty ‘the richest man in the history of the world’ who balked at the idea of paying the relatively small sum of $17 million to get back his kidnapped grandson. Centered on mother Michelle Williams, and ex C.I.A. agent And now Getty’s personal problem solver in the form of Mark Wahlberg to battle for the safe return of the boy Christopher Plumber portrays the self absorbed megalomaniacal Getty refusing to stump up the cash and generally being combative, dis-interested, or delusional at every turn despite his Grandson’s ear famously being sent through the mail by the brutal kidnappers. In terms of Ridley’s back catalogue All The Money In The World is probably most comparable to his excellent 2007 crime drama American Gangster. It’s a beautifully detailed world flitting between the late 60s and early 70s with lavish large scale sets and locations richly detailed by Scott’s obsessively keen eye for production design. It does suffer from being a sort of chocolate box version of the 60s/70s at times, with certain songs, ties and haircuts placed to rather clumsily signpost the era. It’s one of a collection of movies portraying a dumbed down idea of 60s /70s, where all the clothes look brand new and unlived in and the content of the story is treated with more gravitas than it deserves, making the thing a bit dull in an attempt to be tasteful. This style choice has become the blight of recent “period” films like Spielberg’s Munich or Fincher’s Benjamin Button & Zodiac but as a director Ridley has evolved into the cold calculating master technician of Hollywood movies and he can still create the look and feel of a world like no one else. In fact he seems to be have been more interested in the world and locations of the film and it’s the stories twists and turns than he does in his casting choices. Michelle Williams is her usual unremarkable self, unfortunately despite being one of her stronger career performances it never really passes above the realms of a reasonable HBO drama. Mark Wahlberg is woefully miscast as a master negotiator type. Wahlberg looks confused at every turn, as he doesn’t play the kind of C.I.A. Agent who relies on physical field actions to get things done (as you might think for muscle bound Marky Mark) but more a brain box strategist & tactician. Wahlberg looks just as confused by his dialogue as all the cast members under the age of 40 did in Baz Lurhman’s Romeo & Juliet (seriously go back and look at it – no actor under 40 has a clue what they are talking about), but he does squeeze in one very short shot of himself doing some press ups which seems comparatively authentic.
The real casting story here however has been the airbrushing out of history of the man originally cast as Getty, the now Hollywood persona non grata Kevin Spacey. The entire movie was in the can, finished, and by Ridley’s own admission “kind of perfect”, it had an expensive awards season campaign built around what was being talked about as a brilliant performance by Spacey, even the trailer hung on the dramatic reveal of Spacey unrecognisable in the role (by all accounts it looked to be one of those “makeup performances” akin to Steve Carrell in Foxcatcher (but with more meat to it) then the scandal broke. A quick $10 million dollar decision was made to rescue the movie, and cast members returned to set to hurriedly re-shoot scenes replacing Spacey with Plummer, by all accounts they did several weeks worth of shooting in just nine days. Plummer’s Getty is good, remarkably good given the time constraints, and he does indeed provide the best performance of the film and dishing out a decent helping of malice, but sometimes his character seems a little too sympathetic given the monster the film sets him up to be. All this brilliant retro fitting of Plummer into the film thankfully largely doesn’t show as you watch the movie. Despite this however, as Plummer’s performance unfolds, rather sadly one can’t help feeling Spacey’s performance would have contained the kind of larger than life malevolence and possibly OTT performance the score, settings and plot have clearly been set up for, and that he would have provided the necessary boost to the film’s somewhat weak dialogue & characterisation to make it something more than what it has been “salvaged” to be. All credit to Plummer though, he has bagged the Oscar nomination for best supporting actor and probably deserves that much given the situation.
It’s not as much a misstep in Ridley’s career as say G.I. Jane (Demi Moore + muscles) or A Good Year (Russell Crowe finding himself), ultimately it belongs alongside more fair to middling Scott efforts like Matchstick Men or Body Of Lies. It is in the end an engaging & entertaining but essentially unsatisfying thriller. The film starts off feeling a little thin but does build up enough tension in it’s 133 minute running time to draw you in to the fate of it’s largely unlikeable characters and their efforts to rescue Getty’s grandson. But ultimately it seems that long deep sigh you can hear coming from Ridley Scott when confronted about the Spacey question in interviews is recognition that, even this cold calculating veteran Hollywood master technician knows, despite the $10 million put up to rescue the film (in sharp contrast to the lack of funds put up by Getty to rescue his Grandson), & 9 remarkable days with an undoubtedly brilliant actor like Plummer means the reality is he has only salvaged his $50 million dollar movie, but not entirely “rescued” it (matching the plight of the film’s characters! Something tells me all the money in the world couldn’t have completely rescued this one on such short notice… And if you think that’s a ham fisted way to work the title of the film into my review, wait until you hear the ways in which the film’s dialogue does it.