I get the feeling the story behind All the Money in the World will go down in the history books, whether or not it ends up being good, bad, successful, or a bomb. I haven’t been writing about the film for the past couple of weeks for several reasons, mainly because the news has been coming and going so fast it always feels irrelevant by the time I get to it. However, I feel like it needs to be addressed, because holy hell, has this been crazy.
So for those of you who don’t know, Ridley Scott has been working for a few years now on the story of the Getty kidnapping. The Getty family was, for the longest time, the richest family in the history of the world. During the 70s, the son and heir to the fortune, John Paul Getty III, was kidnapped and held for a $17 million ransom. The case became news when the patriarch, J. Paul Getty, refused to pay the ransom “to avoid setting a precedent,” i.e. greed. After the boy’s mother, Abigail Harris, made the appropriate fuss, and the boy’s ear showed up in the mail, Getty agreed to loan his son the money (with interest), and only provided $2.2 million, the most he could write-off as tax deductible. For the film, Scott secured an AFI Festival debut, an Oscar friendly release date, and an all-star cast. An Oscar-worthy (supposedly) Michelle Williams played Abigail Harris, Mark Wahlberg played the FBI agent searching for the teen, and here’s where things get interesting: in the role of J. Paul Getty, utilizing an insane amount of make-up to age 30 years, Kevin Spacey.
Well, I’m sure you are all aware by now that Spacey has been in the news for what we’ll call morally appalling reasons (I’ll talk more about this in a future article, maybe, if I can handle it). While it’s clearly not the focus of this story, it certainly threw a wrench into the film’s campaign strategy, which heavily focused, for both Oscars and audiences, on Spacey’s potentially game-changing performance. For days, controversy swirled around what TriStar would do with the film, which ranged from being pulled from the festival to being moved to June to being scrapped altogether. Eventually, TriStar came out and announced their plan of action: the film would not premiere at the AFI Festival, and they would scrap their plans for a Spacey Oscar push, but they would still release on December 22nd as planned. This strategy held for several days, until Ridley Scott stepped in tonight with a shocking announcement: he would completely cut Kevin Spacey out of the film, reshoot his hours of footage, with J. Paul Getty now played by the legendary Christopher Plummer, and the film would still be released on December 22nd with an Oscar push. I mean, I don’t know where to begin with this news. This is completely unprecedented – I’m not sure an actor has ever been cut this close to the premiere of a film and completely replaced, for any reason. Then there’s the fact that Scott still wants to finish the film by December 22nd, which is incredibly, incredibly ballsy. I’m not sure he can do it, but whether or not he does, he’s set an incredible precedent. I mean, if this was done for money, it would simply be smarter to release the film in June, or just bite the bullet and stop advertising, not spending millions of dollars to reshoot everything. No matter the reason this was done, money certainly wasn’t the baseline here.
I’ll have more information on this film as it develops. I’m still not entirely interested in the film (I wasn’t even when Spacey was involved), but no matter what, the saga of this film is worth following. In the meantime, it may be difficult to watch the original trailer, which builds to the reveal of Kevin Spacey’s Getty and the heavy make-up game, given everything we know now, but if there comes a point where you can watch the two-minute video, it may be worth it, for historical purposes. I mean, who knows how much longer that curious footnote will exist, on the web or abroad.
UPDATE: In the few minutes in between writing and posting this article, it has been revealed that Plummer was supposedly Ridley Scott’s first choice for the role of J. Paul Getty, and the studio pushed him to hire a bigger name, i.e. Spacey.