In an astonishing reshoot, director Ridley Scott replaced the original actor in a completed film and released his movie, more or less on schedule. Hit with a sexual harassment scandal of epic proportion, Kevin Spacey’s scenes were edited out and reshot with Christopher Plummer within a matter of weeks, and the miracle is that if you hadn’t read about it, you wouldn’t be able to tell. Scott’s command and control over the aesthetics of big budget films has allowed him, over many years, to remain unique – a film maker with a definitive political position, relatively undiluted by the commercial scope, massive scale, and occasional production complications of his movies.
He is centre right in his politics, and this is particularly true in his film on Jerusalem during the crusades, ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ (2005), in which he describes the retreat from the holy city by the victorious Muslim army of Saladin. The withdrawal of his army is negotiated by a Christian blacksmith who argues the humanitarian and historical argument of Jerusalem being a city of three great religions, and says that war will destroy the monuments within, held dear by men and women of all faith.
In ‘All the Money in the World’, based on a true incident in 1973 when the grandson of billionaire oil tycoon, J. Paul Getty, was kidnapped in Rome, Scott carefully positions his film in the middle; neither condemning the kidnappers outright, nor sympathising entirely with the parents and grandfather of the kidnapped 16 year old boy.
Instead, he looks at how vast amounts of money corrupts the human soul. The kidnappers are an organised Italian crime ring, but they shrewdly position Getty’s financial empire in terms of capitalistic exploitation, and, with the help of a largely left leaning media, present themselves as some sort of proletariat resistance against a wealth obsessed heartless man, without an ounce of humanity. The old man (convincingly played by Christopher Plummer) is indeed cold and calculating. He holds out against their demands, at the real risk of endangering the life and health of his favourite grandchild (Charlie Plummer). He argues, facetiously, that if he gives in to kidnappers, his large family will be besieged, and he will be reduced to penury. This is plainly ridiculous, and just a ruse to avoid paying what is, in comparative terms, just a minute fraction of the money he earned from the sky high oil prices during the OPEC oil embargo of 1973.
Some of the scenes in Rome, seem consciously adapted from the style of the Italian directors of that period. When the long haired teenager is kidnapped, he is lounging around the city and being propositioned by street hookers. The sequence is an exact framing of the hookers practising their trade in Federico Fellini’s ’Nights of Cabiria’. Later in the film, as the newspapermen swarm around the boy’s mother (Michelle Williams), looking for a new angle on the kidnapping, the Italian media comes through as a kettle of vultures feeding on a corpse. It is the same scathing manner in which Fellini describes the Paparazzi in ‘La Dolce Vita’. This stylistic device allows the film to be period dated in a more interesting manner than would a conventional design.
In large measure, by avoiding a melodramatic approach to the narrative, the film engages us in the personal and political circumstances of the period. It shows us the vanity of human wishes and demonstrates how unconnected wealth is to the happiness of an individual. At the same time ‘All the Money in the World’ is paced well, and is a good thriller.