Christopher Plummer Saves All the Money in the World

Pop Culture

Christopher Plummer Saves All the Money in the World

Illustration: Akshita Monga

L

ast October, as the whole world debated the million-dollar question — Can we separate the art from the artist? — when a slew of sexual assault allegations were made public about Kevin Spacey, one man already had his answer.

That man is Ridley Scott. On November 8, a week after Spacey’s predatory behaviour came to light and a few days since his insensitive “sorry-not sorry-I’m gay” apology, Scott announced that he would be replacing the actor, cast as oil baron J Paul Getty in All The Money In The World.

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At the time, 80-year-old Scott’s quasi-biopic, quasi-thriller, had been wrapped up on-time and under-budget, a trailer had been released and it was understood that the studio would aggressively pursue an Oscar campaign for Spacey. In fact, Scott had even moved on to his next project. But, then the tide turned. With six weeks left for the film’s December 25 release, veteran actor Christopher Plummer was brought in at the last-minute and Scott did something that was absolutely unprecedented in Hollywood: Not just reshooting an already finished movie, but displaying a spine of steel.

All The Money In The World

Christopher Plummer builds up J Paul Getty as a man of great contrasts.

Image credit: Scott Free Productions

Scott not only reshot 22 scenes that Spacey was in, but also group scenes, and completely overhauled the marketing campaign at the extra expense of a few million dollars. All within the span of nine days. None of these feats would, however, be considered anything more than a “stunt” if the gamble hadn’t paid off.

One viewing of All The Money In The World is enough to confirm that Ridley Scott has been successful in pulling off a masterpiece: For Christopher Plummer is quite simply the best thing about the film, which has notched up several Golden Globe nominations, including Supporting Actor for Plummer and Best Director for Scott.

The film, based on John Pearson’s 1995 book, Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty, picks up from the 1973 kidnapping of 16-year-old John Paul Getty III, son of Gail Getty (Michelle Williams) and grandson of the richest person in the history of the world.  

One viewing of All The Money In The World is enough to confirm that Ridley Scott has been successful in pulling off a masterpiece

A ransom of $17 million was demanded by Paul’s Italian kidnappers, who keep him locked safe in a mountain hideout. His mother is grief-stricken, but Paul’s grandfather, for whom $17 million is spare change, refuses to pay the ransom. The elder Getty justifies this by saying, “I have 14 grandchildren. If I pay the ransom, I’ll have 14 kidnapped grandchildren.”

Much of the film aims to decipher the man behind the reputation. Plummer humanises a character destined to be the villain of the proceedings. It is only in the actor’s hands that we get the absolutely saddening portrait of a man held prisoner by his extreme wealth.

Plummer builds up Getty as a man of great contrasts. On one hand, he is too miserly to pay for laundry service in hotels, choosing to wash his clothes himself. On the other, he is considered so magnanimous that people from all around the world send him letters asking for help; ones that he sincerely replies to. By his own admission, Getty trusts and loves inanimate objects more than people. He is most at attention when he is handed pieces of paper that inform him about stock market numbers, a stark contrast to his apparent disinterest in his kidnapped grandson’s life. In a standout scene, Getty’s sense of priorities are neatly highlighted in a cold, dramatised scene where he spends $1.5 million to acquire a rare painting even as his grandson remains locked.

All The Money In The World

Ridley Scott not only reshot 22 scenes that Spacey was in, but also group scenes, and completely overhauled the marketing campaign at the extra expense of a few million dollars.

Image credit: Scott Free Productions

Plummer’s layered performance is skilful enough to fool people into believing that all Getty is indeed in love with is his wealth, given his propensity to protect and boast about it. (“If you can count your money, you’re not a billionaire”, he laughingly claims at one point). But it is only later that it dawns on you that all Getty is concerned about is aspiring to leave behind a legacy.

Moreover, Plummer is effortless in casually letting Getty’s humane side peek for a few moments in between wearing his usually ruthless mask. So, even when Getty claims that Paul is his favourite grandson one moment, the next moment his steely exterior is quick to point out that he has 14 grandchildren; implying that he is hardly emotionally attached to any of them. It’s these rare hints of charm, aided by a twinkle in his eyes that makes Getty’s practicality, even in times of crisis, look even more dangerous. He brings a tinge of vulnerability to the role, as opposed to the out-and-out slimy shade that Spacey would have ended up giving his Getty.

Scott, in a way, channelled the elder Getty’s ruthlessness when it comes to making a swift call. Thanks to Plummer, it ends up being a decision that is bound to leave behind a glittering legacy. The only thing that is left is to give him all the awards in the world.

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