Sunday, January 07, 2018

About All the Money in the World

When I was younger, I had several of those books about the behind-the-scenes scandals and secrets of the movie industry, sort of PG-rated Hollywood Babylon. One chapter I remember was about the casting ideas that didn’t come off, accompanied by slightly wonky collages that showed what The Wizard of Oz would have been like with Shirley Temple and WC Fields, or Doris Day as Mrs Robinson in The Graduate. Of course, it’s impossible to watch All the Money in the World – as I tried to do last night – without thinking of the unfortunate circumstances that preceded its release. The difference is, that this isn’t a “what if?” A version of the movie with Kevin Spacey actually exists and we don’t need to glue a cut-out of his head onto Christopher Plummer’s body to make it so; in fact, the collage effectively happened the other way round, with Plummer interpolated to a film that was already essentially finished. One effect of the last-minute change is that you’re constantly focusing on the artificiality of the filming process, knowing that all the scenes with Plummer were thrown together a few weeks ago, long after the other stuff had been shot. When actors talk about “the old man” they didn’t have an image of Plummer as J Paul Getty in their heads; as you see a reaction shot to Plummer, he or she was probably reacting to Spacey (who’s several inches shorter than his replacement, which must have added to the fun).

It’s a pity, because although Plummer is very good, his is strictly a supporting role. The real centre of the film is Michelle Williams as Getty’s daughter-in-law Gail, exactly the sort of role we need for women in a post-Weinstein universe, discovering her own hidden strengths without needing to flash her cleavage; but she’s all but buried as we try to work out how the venerable Plummer was shoehorned into the action.

Both Williams and Plummer are tipped for Oscars. There’s a healthy tradition of people winning statuettes for reasons extrinsic to the performances in question, which often aren’t their best; Judi Dench for not having won it for Mrs Brown the year before; Henry Fonda for not having won one at all, and being nearly dead; John Wayne for being John Wayne. But Plummer could be the first person to acquire an award for who he isn’t.

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