Christopher Plummer is far better in 'All the Money in the World' than Kevin Spacey would have been

Posted December 31, 2017 6:10 p.m. EST

It's impossible to watch Ridley Scott's All the Money in the World without thinking of the elephant no longer in the room. The movie will forever be remembered as the one from which Kevin Spacey was erased.

Scott's bold decision to excise Spacey's performance as billionaire J. Paul Getty from his completed film two months before its release is unprecedented. But so are the sexual misconduct allegations against such a celebrated actor. Scott turned to another Oscar winner, Christopher Plummer, re-shooting scenes in weeks that took months of preparation before.

All the Money in the World is a better movie for doing it.

Plummer, 88, doesn't require the aging latex making Spacey resemble a Madame Tussauds reject in early trailers. His crafty eyes radiate the ruthless authority necessary to play Getty, whose refusal to pay a petty cash ransom for his kidnapped grandson is the crux of Scott's movie.

I'd say that I can't imagine another actor in the role except I can, and Spacey wouldn't be this good.

Getty is not a small role, as some guessed when Scott made the switch. As Plummer's screen time accumulates, the enormity of what Scott accomplished is clearer. The substitution isn't seamless; two over-the-shoulder shots are tell-tale moves and a desert scene almost certainly CGIs Plummer's face onto a walking body, perhaps Spacey's. The rest is illusion.

And the movie? It's solid although not as pulse-quickening as the kidnap angle and Scott's reputation would suggest. All the Money in the World is a reflection of its villain, a movie as cold and calculating as Getty himself, cloaked in grays and cadaver blues despite its Italian setting.

Like Plummer, Michelle Williams is a Golden Globe nominee; she plays Gail Harris, who married the Getty's black-sheep son (Andrew Buchan) outside the family fortune. Their son John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer, no relation) is held hostage while the eldest Getty jockeys for best deals on investments, even his grandson's life. Mark Wahlberg is fine but miscast as a security expert helping out; his image makes us expect his character to do more. A less aggressive movie hero would be a better choice for the role.

But don't give Scott any more ideas.

Contact Steve Persall at spersall@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.