Christopher Plummer received his third Oscar nomination for portraying J. Paul Getty in All the Money in the World.
Christopher Plummer's third Oscar nomination for this film is quite notable, and not just because he's become the oldest nominee in any acting category. This is the first time an Oscar nominee was literally not part of the original final cut of the film being the last minute replacement for persona non grata Keyser Soze better known in Latin as a sicine subrepsti. Plummer though technically was not even a last minute replacement he was a post-production replacement in an attempt to salvage the film just a few weeks before its official release date. There have been replacements into filming, most famously Eric Stoltz was replaced by Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future, but never something quite like particularly not with a role this substantial. That narrative, that required Plummer to take over the role so quickly, and with utmost efficiency, is likely what ensured his Oscar nomination, given that the film has been only a minor critical success otherwise. Now putting that narrative aside though, because years from now that information will be an interesting anecdote, but little more, the real question is how will his actual performance stand, even when separated from the unusual circumstances surrounding his casting.
Christopher Plummer plays one of the substantial roles in the film and the one that makes the story as significant as it is. J. Paul Getty being the richest man in the world at the time is part of it, but the more important facet is that he was a notorious miser who refused to pay the kidnappers of his grandson. It is interesting then that the film, and Plummer seem to take somewhat different approaches role. I write this because from the outset the film's buildup of Getty is of this larger than life figure who we initially meet beyond a quick flashback when one of his estranged sons comes looking for a job along with family including his wife Gail (Michelle Williams) and his son the eventual kidnapee. The music chosen for this scene is dark and foreboding as though they are coming to see some malevolent force, perhaps they were in the original cut. Now Plummer in his entrance is imposing indeed, but not only that. Plummer naturally carries a certain presence as an actor to begin but here he projects this all the more. There is a dominance that Plummer brings through ease of this presence. There's a care free quality in Plummer's physicality, a welcoming outgoing element to his manner that Plummer converts to this striking power of a man who despite bearing so much responsibility reveals such a comfort in his own state as a man.
Plummer's approach is particularly effective in that he is indeed intimidating however he does not vilify the character as much as the direction of the scene seems to imply that he should. Plummer's seeming refusal is the right approach, and makes Getty far more interesting than if he was this one note curmudgeon we simply had to deal with. The early scenes offer a better, though no more optimistic in terms of choices of the film's score, as we see him spend time with his grandson. Plummer delivers a genuine warmth in his encouraging smiles, and exuberant embrace as he shows his grandson around old ruins in Rome. Plummer is terrific here in that he neither demonizes nor does he canonize Getty in this scene. He shows that the love is honest through these interactions however in every word that is filled with adoration for his grandson, there is this pride that Plummer beams at the same. The pride that Plummer exudes in that same smile is a little off-putting as he emphasizes that every moment he speaks of his own greatness as though he is some resurrected warlord of the past. Plummer in this scene brilliantly humanizes Getty as a man who cares for his grandson, but perhaps cares for himself, and his own image more.
When the actual plot begins Plummer is a frequent and welcome detour within the film as the younger Getty's mother attempts to bargain for her son's release only aided by a seemingly indifferent agent of the elder Getty, Fletcher Chase (played by a seemingly indifferent Mark Wahlberg). Plummer in these scenes carefully reveals two different sides of Getty, though both problematic, but dependent on whether he is in public or private. In public, such in the scene where Getty almost seems to mock the kidnappers and his grandson by openly stating he will not pay for his release, Plummer reveals the brazen qualities of a true robber baron. There is no shame, not a hint of it, but there is this strength in the man's personality as Plummer inflicts every line with such confidence, when he says "nothing" to indicate how much will pay, you can see that he absolutely means it. This does contrast though with his private scenes where he discusses the matter, Plummer presenting him carefree as always. When questioned about his wealth though is where we see the most compelling choice by Plummer as performer, which again refuses to set Getty as just this one note villain. In these scenes of choosing not to bargain for his grandson's life, or any moment where he reveals his miserly ways, Plummer never plays them as an unreformed Ebenezer Scrooge. He instead portrays them as this seasoned mentor, he projects warmth in these moments. When describing the corruption of wealth, or even his process of doing his own laundry, Plummer either beams a great smile or infuses a genuine passion of a man who believes he's imparting wisdom to whom ever he is talking to.
Plummer makes this the absolute truth in Getty's mind and importantly shows that in his mind what he is doing is for the good of everyone. Of course he's not, but Plummer shows properly a man who has never been questioned. There are only a few times in the film where his worldview is shaken and each Plummer grants the severity of these in terms of questioning the man's worldview. The two most notable of these being near the end of the film. One being when Chase questions him most directly by invading his personal space for but a moment by grabbing his arm. Plummer is great in this moment by revealing the intensity of the fear in the man of this brief intrusion, the fear of a man who has not felt such vulnerability in a long time. The other scene is his final scene of Getty gasping out his last breaths while admiring a painting, he bought instead of giving the full ransom for his grandson, featuring a small boy. In this moment Plummer finds naturally the man's infirm state. Plummer now depicting the man without that physical power or confidence, but just a remorseful sadness staring into his only company in death, his possessions. When I started this review I asked how Christopher Plummer's performance stands beyond the unusual circumstances of his casting. Well the answer is it can stand entirely on its own. Plummer delivers a terrific performance that not only goes beyond those circumstances, but seems to infuse the role with complexity and tragedy possibly not evident before his worthy contribution.