I don’t think I’ve ever been as impressed with Ridley Scott — one of my favorite directors — as I am this year. Sideswiped by an unexpected PR disaster, he devised a radical remedy, implemented it flawlessly, and released his film All the Money in the World on time like the motherfucking pro that he is. Bow down. All must bow down to this man who at 80 years old faced down Film Twitter — the mob consumed with a collective desire to shame and humiliate. “Fuck you fuckers,” he said. “I’ll re-shoot with Christopher Plummer. You think I can’t? You think I’ll cower in a corner and wreck my film’s premiere just because Spacey went from bankable star to societal pariah in less time than it took for me to have my morning cup of coffee? Just who do you think you’re dealing with?”
In a town full of people afraid of everything — losing money, ruining a career, becoming a joke, getting fired — Ridley Scott knew that his film was bigger than any scandal. With actors from around the world bringing their best, a dedicated film crew, and a consequential story that he wanted to be told this year, Scott quickly realized that he could mend this mess the same way he’s been patching sticky situations going back 30 years. That’s what great directors do — they problem solve. They fix shit that gets broken. Its a rare breed of director with the guts and clout to do what Scott has done here, to step up with the courage it takes to say, “No one is irreplaceable. Here’s Christopher Fucking Plummer – and he’ll be every bit as good, if not better, than Spacey.” Scott’s resolve was made all the more forceful since Plummer had been his original choice for the role, until studio brass insisted on a “bigger name.”
If All the Money in the World had faltered, the snark machine would have been fed the fodder it needed to make this joke last a decade. But far from faltering, it’s sure-footed and vigorous, and therein lies the miracle of Ridley Scott.
Ridley Scott is 80 years old. His first film The Duelists won a prize in Cannes for Best First Work in 1977. His sophomore effort was 1979’s Alien, nothing less than one of the greatest films ever made. Then came Blade Runner, which was so influential it virtually invented its own genre (cyberpunk noir). Each of these films carry with them whole universes of themes and visuals — can you imagine today’s film industry without them? But he’s also made movies like Thelma and Louise, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, Matchstick Men, and The Martian. He’s made a dozen great films and a few that are less than great, but he’s never made a movie that wasn’t visually lavish and fascinating, and it’s abundantly evident from the chances he takes that he’s got balls made of iron. He is fearless enough to make movies as risky as Legend and The Counselor, and dauntless enough to say, “If Spacey is toxic, then I’ll inject Plummer as antidote. Done and done.”
Ridley Scott simply refused to let this thing collapse and become a joke. He met with journalists, arranged Q&A screenings — sat there and took question after question, never wavering an instant to fudge with the truth. He took what might have been a career-ending fiasco for many directors and flipped it on its ear. He reworked a potential debacle into a film that’s better now than it would have been if Spacey had stayed in it. All the Money in the World is full of emotional depth and suspense, but its real power is in how it resonates in 2017. When I asked what drew him to the project, Scott said he wanted to show that people’s lives can be miserable whether they live on the street or if they have all the money in the world.
Plummer as John Paul Getty – the richest man ever in the history of humankind – lives out his life as a bitter, lonely, isolated man who refuses to cough up a relatively small sum of money to save his kidnapped grandson from peril and pain. The film is about both the survival of the young Getty at the hands of kidnappers and the determination of his mother (Michelle Williams, against type) trying to pull blood from a stone. Mark Wahlberg plays the attorney go-between who works for Getty but can’t abide the man’s miserly inhumanity. Plummer is, as expected, fantastic.
Ridley Scott has been directing films for 40 years, half his life. He knows a thing or two about the game of it, about the craft of it, about the art of it. He knows about creating worlds, about telling stories, about being unafraid to take risks. He knows the importance daring to fail before finding new footing and starting over again. He believed in this script. He asked the actors and his crew to put their time and faith in him. He did not let them down.
All the Money in the World is so much about right now, as we watch the rich get richer and the poor scramble around to grab enough for a decent life. Our current gang of politicians want only to make it easier on rich people who have never had it very hard to begin with. One thing Scott’s film does is drive home the point profoundly and completely that you can’t take it with you. Wealth is meaningless if it isolates you from the human experience, if you can’t even take care of those who should mean the most to you. “What profit is it to a man if he gains the world and loses his own soul?”
There may be some who still want to scoff — cynics who will remember this film for all the wrong reasons. Me, I’m taking my hat off to Ridley Scott – a ballsy, brilliant badass who refused to back down in a time of crisis but instead just got on with it. We could all take a lesson from that.