On Wednesday, director Ridley Scott announced a plan that is virtually unprecedented in the history of Hollywood: With his new film “All the Money in the World” already in the can and less than two weeks from its planned world premiere, he will recast Kevin Spacey’s role (as deep-pocketed oil tycoon J. Paul Getty) and reshoot the publicly disgraced actor’s scenes with 87-year old Christopher Plummer, while still attempting to adhere to the film’s Dec. 22 release date.
It’s a bold move, and one that I predict, sight unseen, could earn Scott his first best director Oscar. Not that awards had anything to do with Scott’s dramatic switch. He wanted to save the picture, which might easily have imploded by association with Spacey, who was last week accused of making sexual advances on several young men.
Spacey is just the latest domino to fall in a brisk industry-wide house-cleaning triggered by last month’s bombshell exposé by the New York Times of Hollywood alleged predator Harvey Weinstein. And he certainly won’t be the last. Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Bill Clinton, Donald Trump. This movement, which I call “the Reckoning,” has been brewing for several years now. Sooner or later, showbiz’s sexual-harassment House of Cards had to crumble. And so it has.
No sooner had Buzzfeed reported Anthony Rapp’s story of Spacey attempting to seduce him at the tender age of 14 then Netflix pulled the plug on Season 5 of Spacey’s show. It was only a matter of time before Sony would have to follow suit with “All the Money in the World,” which had been slated to premiere as the closing night film of AFI Fest in Los Angeles. When the studio announced its decision to withdraw “Money” from AFI, it left the festival — which has previously launched such Academy Award contenders as “American Sniper,” “The Big Short,” “Lincoln,” and “The Fighter” — with zero high-profile world premieres.
But Sony still had a PR disaster on their hands, stuck with a film featuring Spacey in a critical role. That’s where Scott’s decision — backed by producers Dan Friedkin and Bradley Thomas — was such a stroke of genius. Rather than putting the film on a shelf and waiting for the scandal to blow over (it won’t: Spacey is dunzo), or attempting to downplay the two-time Oscar winner’s involvement in a movie that hinges on his character, Scott announced a scheme to salvage the project altogether. By recasting Spacey, he not only sends a loud-and-clear message that the director disavows the actor, but also gives audiences (and potential Oscar voters), who might have boycotted the film in light of the accusations against Spacey, reason to endorse it instead.
Again, in Scott’s case, I suspect awards were not the issue. There are plenty of directors who seem determined to amass as much Oscar gold as they possibly can. (I’m looking at you, Clint Eastwood, though the list goes on.) Not Sir Ridley Scott, whose career has blazed a decidedly different trajectory, making big, bold, rock-the-system studio pictures — “Alien,” “Blade Runner,” “Thelma & Louise,” “Kingdom of Heaven,” “The Martian,” to name his five best — that have consistently challenged the industry’s fundamental assumptions and changed the course of filmmaking.
He’s also the guy who directed 2001 best picture winner “Gladiator,” dusting off the sword-and-sandal genre in the process, but Scott has never gotten his due from the Academy (Steven Soderbergh deservedly won that year’s directing prize). Scott’s proposal to expurgate Spacey from “Money” obviously won’t be easy, calling for a mad scramble by editors, visual effects artists, and all kinds of post-production personnel. But if there’s anyone who can do it, Scott’s the man, having nimbly adapted to huge production hurdles in the past (such as the Oliver Reed’s death before the completion of “Gladiator”).
With this announcement, Scott takes an important stand while also creating an enormous challenge for himself and his crew. Nobody expects artists to be perfect, but as a society, we have to draw the line somewhere in terms of what kind of misbehavior we’re willing to excuse. Cross it, and the system shouldn’t cover for you any longer. (Let’s be honest: Weinstein and Spacey are simply the ones who’ve been egregious enough to get caught, but the hypocrisy has to end somewhere.) However much money is at stake, this industry cannot be complicit in enabling or excusing criminal behavior. Period.