Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5
USA, 2017. Imperative Entertainment, RedRum Films, Scott Free Productions, TriStar Productions. Screenplay by David Scarpa, based on the book by John Pearson. Cinematography by Dariusz Wolski. Produced by Chris Clark, Quentin Curtis, Dan Friedkin, Mark Huffam, Ridley Scott, Bradley Thomas, Kevin J. Walsh. Music by Daniel Pemberton. Production Design by Arthur Max. Costume Design by Janty Yates. Film Editing by Claire Simpson.
The name of J. Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer) is as synonymous with money as the face of Benjamin Franklin by the time Getty reaches his years of dotage, having been one of the first key players to get oil out of the Middle East, making him the richest man in the history of humanity. His estranged son, however, is struggling to get by until he swallows his pride and asks for a job, which means moving himself and his wife (Michelle Williams) to Rome where she stays even after they divorce and her husband becomes more intent on spending his time getting high in Morocco. Their three children are raised somewhere between their grandfather’s endless privilege and their mother’s practical wisdom, which might be the reason why young Paul (Charlie Plummer, no relation) does not think to watch his back while strolling the Eternal City’s streets at night, despite the fact that Italy in the seventies was pretty much a hotbed of kidnapping activity….and alas, the night comes when his number is up and he is taken for a very pricey ransom.
The situation should be easily resolved right then and there, but Williams doesn’t have the money (since it’s her ex-husband’s family who is rich), and her father-in-law, a man who made a billion dollars one penny at a time, insists that it would be financially ruinous for him to pay. Time moves on and the situation becomes more horrific as Williams’ desperation increases, teaming up with Getty’s security man (Mark Wahlberg) to find a solution that won’t require waiting for the old man to write a cheque, while in a rural farmhouse the young hostage develops a relationship with his captor (Romain Duris) that eventually becomes a suspiciously unconvincing friendship.
Flashy and exciting, this film doesn’t represent director Ridley Scott at his deepest (and so few films do), but it does show him at his most technically efficient and energetic, a film that is never boring even if many of its plot turns are easy to see coming (even if you don’t know the real story). The performances are of mixed quality, there’s an overreaching effect to Williams’ Katharine Hepburn accent that is jarring to listen to, while Wahlberg spends every scene looking confused as to what to do next, with everyone in the film weighed down by the painfully hard work being done by a series of increasingly implausible wigs. The best moments in the whole thing come from the elder Plummer as the villainous yet devilishly charming old man; standing on the shoulders of similar performances (Nicholas Nickleby comes to mind), the deservedly legendary thespian contributes a full-blooded performance free of any visible tricks, delivering his most devastating lines in a sanguine tone while maintaining a twinkle in his eye.
It wraps up without even mentioning the actual tragic end that young Paul eventually experienced (not an insignificant piece of the puzzle), further clarifying this as a shallow glamorization of a very sad true story, but don’t be surprised if you feel compelled to see it through to the end.
Academy Award Nomination: Best Supporting Actor (Christopher Plummer)
Golden Globe Award Nominations: Best Actress-Drama; Best Supporting Actor (Christopher Plummer); Best Director (Ridley Scott)