There’s a sentiment amongst the reviewers of this film that it is impossible to judge it without considering the conditions of its production, namely the allegations against star Kevin Spacey and his subsequent recasting after the film was already completed, which led to reshoots with new lead Christopher Plummer just weeks before the film’s release. A less seasoned or less visionary filmmaker may have panicked – but not Ridley Scott, who is notorious for his storyboarding, planning and ability to see the edited work in his head. Such are technological advances that only one scene required green screen (an expensive, significant and fairly short scene in the desert which is not remotely lessened by the process). I agree with those sentiments – the film is all the more remarkable for its storied production, but it required a solid base to lay its tricky foundations and in looking at the life of J. Paul Getty there was intrigue enough to transcend any production disasters.
Plummer is fitting for the central character of Getty; age appropriate and perfectly nuanced in performance. Nobody will come out of the film liking Getty more and that is the point – he’s an alien and an enigma, a cheapskate and a visionary. He’s the richest man in the world. The story centres around the 1973 kidnap of Getty’s grandson John Paul Getty III. Bundled into a van in Italy by professionals, the kidnappers set the ransom at $17 million and are fully confident that a man of Getty’s wealth will not bat an eye at the high price of freeing his beloved grandson. But Getty is in the business of making money, not giving it away, and when former daughter-in-law Gail (Michelle Williams) comes asking for help to free her son Getty informs her that he doesn’t have the money to spare.
The film is standard kidnap thriller fodder neither reaching out into possibility like Blade Runner nor closely studying character like The Martian. It is full of twists and turns and fans of the genre will come away very satisfied. The story is audacious and unpredictable without much thematic heavy lifting – Ridley Scott does a professional job and delivers an enjoyable biopic. The film, however, belongs to Michelle Williams. For all the better Plummer turns out as Getty, she goes toe-to-toe with Plummer and right hand negotiator Mark Wahlberg, who never gives an inch.
Perhaps fittingly considering the production troubles, the film ultimately sees a strong principled woman fighting for decency in a corrupt male-driven world and inspiring by never giving up no matter how bad the steering.+