Some movies risk becoming better known for what happens off camera than what they deliver on screen.
For Ridley Scott, the director of Gladiator and Aliens, finishing All the Money in the World created reel drama in late 2017. Just one month before the film’s scheduled release, Kevin Spacey — who played the pivotal role of billionaire J. Paul Getty — was publicly accused of misconduct. Rather than release the film with Spacey’s footage, or delay the release, Scott immediately reshot Spacey’s scenes with Christopher Plummer in the role. The Oscar-winning actor did the retakes in just nine days, the film was released on time, and Plummer snagged an Academy Award nomination for his fill-in work. Now that the film is available for home viewing, we can look beyond the off-screen drama to savor this crackling story that delivers real thrills.
Paul Getty, as he tells anyone, is the richest man in the world. And the smartest. While the oil business has been good to him, he refuses to rest on his achievements, always pushing himself and the people around him. Getty refuses to be satisfied. Or happy. He wants too much and will not compromise with anyone in his orbit, including his immediate family. With one exception, they become extra staff in a world defined by organizational charts. But Getty becomes enamored by a grandson who, somehow, breaks through the veneer to touch the rich man’s heart. When the 16-year-old boy is kidnapped, the grandfather finds himself torn between the precision of business and the vulnerability of family. For the first time, the man who insists on transactional success faces a negotiation he can’t control.
David Scarpa’s script — adapted from the book by John Pearson — efficiently creates a backdrop for the tension while carefully developing the elder Getty’s point of view. Director Scott keeps the action moving at a consistent pace, only letting the film slow in its final act, and letting the climax drag when it should pick up momentum. He effectively directs Michelle Williams to bring a captivating spontaneity to her take on the young boy’s mother, a woman determined to shield her son from the power of the family name.
What Scott achieves with Plummer works so well that, if we didn’t know the backstory, we’d never suspect the director’s miracle. This is Plummer’s film, from first to last frame. When on screen, he commands with a presence that fills the theater, a man scorched by ambition, undermined by ego. Within seconds of his first appearance we forget he was added at the last minute. The actor was born to play this role. Few performers working today could so quickly make us believe the authenticity of his conflict, the depth of his drive. Plummer makes it difficult to imagine Spacey, who chews the scenery as Frank Underwood in House of Cards, in a role that demands such subtlety and precision.
Yes, some movies are remembered for what happens off camera. All the Money in the World deserves to be seen, and remembered, for what we see on screen, especially Plummer’s performance. He makes it a better film than it would have been.
Film Nutritional Value: All the Money in the World
- Content: High. This complex look at what people fear reminds us no matter how accomplished we may be, anyone can be distracted by the people we love.
- Entertainment: High. As the film explores the complications a kidnapping can create, it captures our imaginations with what could happen with people who have so much.
- Message: Medium. As Ridley Scott creates his thriller, he makes us think about the assumptions we make about people we observe. But this is not a message picture.
- Relevance: High. Any opportunity to see an entertaining thriller is always relevant. And Christopher Plummer delivers a virtuoso performance.
- Opportunity for Dialogue: High. The movie offers an entertaining time at the movies for adults. But it’s not for kids.
All the Money in the World runs 2 hours, 12 minutes. It is rated R for language, some violence, disturbing images and brief drug content. After showing in theaters, it is available On Demand and on iTunes. 4 Popcorn Buckets.
Captain Phillips captures the horror of hijacking
As Ridley Scott so effectively conveys in All the Money in the World, the tragedy of a kidnapping can redefine the realities anyone must face. And when the incident commands the attention of someone who feels responsible for the lives of others, the dynamics of the situation become more intense.
In 2013, the film Captain Phillips opened the New York Film Festival with its dramatic take on the Maersk Alabama, an American cargo ship hijacked by pirates in the Indian Ocean. As the festival’s opening feature, the film may have commanded attention no matter its merits. But director Paul Greengrass knows what story he’s telling. Much as he did with the impossible-to-forget United 93, the director uses actual events we read about to tell stories we may imagine about the ultimate courage average people may demonstrate in outrageous situations.
A commercial ship, carrying a load of products and supplies, is kidnapped off the coast of Africa by a band of pirates. Before you begin to imagine visions of Johnny Depp, picture these criminals as serious criminals who, despite their gaffes in executing the crime, are earnest in their plans to collect millions from the “haves” of the world. Their efforts to seize the ship begin a tense battle between two commanders to determine who will last longer.
For Tom Hanks, playing the ship’s captain offers another opportunity to play a character at the center of a significant historical moment. As he did as an astronaut in peril in Apollo 13, and a citizen soldier with a mission in Saving Private Ryan, Hanks brings his trademarked everyman persona to a complex role of a man overwhelmed by events. This captain may not be prepared for what he faces but he knows what he must do from the first moments. And he never forgets the crew he commands.
As comfortable as he may appear as this down-to-earth sea captain, however, Hanks opens himself emotionally as we have not seen in years. The actor examines this man’s ability to handle fear in a most absorbing performance, reminding us what a gifted, disciplined actor he can be, careful enough never to show effort, natural enough to make moments feel real. As he said at the festival, “I knew that if we told the story thematically, we would be accurate. But if we manufactured moments we would violate what actually happened.”
Hanks benefits from Greengrass as a director. This daring filmmaker, best known for his look at September 11, 2011, in United 93, again brings history to life with the creativity of an artist and the discipline of a documentarian. For this film, the situation is made for the movies. The film compels because Greengrass focuses on the intense relationship between Hanks, as the captain of the boat, and Barkhad Abdi, as the leader of the pirates. As Greengrass said at the festival, “We had to tell the truth, and find the human story, without becoming too sentimental.” He makes careful choices that drive the creative integrity of the film, from his refusal to rely on computer generation to “fill in” visuals and, instead, to actually shoot at sea. This is not a film about heroes and villains; Greengrass simply tells a story of what people do to get through the day to finish what they are assigned. Some are pirates; others are employees.
Rarely do we experience such a human story, told in this authentic way, featuring an actor at the peak of his powers, and a director who understands what a camera can capture.
Much like Ridley Scott and All the Money in the World.
Captain Phillips runs 2 hours, 14 minutes. It is rated PG-13 for sustained intense sequences of menace, some violence with bloody images, and for substance use. It is available On Demand and online.