Written By: Nigel Asipa
What is money really? It’s the means to ensure your family’s future, the means to a thriving business, something that defines your legacy, something that opens up yours and others potential.
In David Scarpa’s screenplay for Ridley Scott’s latest crime thriller, its sources for the magnitude of how we use money and how money can use us, depending on our accountability, or account. It fleshes out a man whose immense wealth and influence cost him more than what he ever bargained for and how such responsibility blindsides one to more tragic depths. Much has been covered on the production of the film. It’s a bold move for any director to reshoot a significant portion of their film a mere 6 weeks before release, even one as prolific as Scott. But it paid off, 22 scenes had to be reshot costing $10 million and filmed over a period of 8 days. And the result is seamless, you couldn’t tell the difference and nothing feels rushed.
Rome, 1973. 16-year-old John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer) is waltzing down the street aimlessly, cigarette in hand. He strolls by some prostitutes where one warns him that the “streets is no place for a boy like you. go home. don’t make your mother worry”. Of course, he doesn’t heed her advice and is soon abducted by the ‘Ndrangheta mafia; who around the time tended towards extortion and blackmailing.
They demanded $17 million for the ransom and when his grandfather, John Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer, no relation to Charlie) was approached by the media on whether he’d pay the sum, he shockingly refused to pay a dime. John Paul Getty, the man who Fortune magazine called in 1957 the ‘richest living American’, spoke of how he’d be an open bank for terrorists and that the number of grandchildren he has would give terrorists the inclination that he’d cough up the dough as soon as they were to be captured too.
This puts serious odds against Charlie mother Gail Harris (Michelle Williams) as the kidnappers assume that she is more than capable than winning her son’s freedom. Flashbacks early on in the story show that relations in the Getty family aren’t exactly amicable. Getty enlists Fletcher Chace (Mark Wahlberg), an ex CIA operative to assist Gail in the return of his grandson as “inexpensively” as possible.
Gail recently divorced her drug-addicted husband John Paul Getty II (Andrew Buchan) and therefore has no way of getting the money. So between her and Fletcher look to exhaust any and all options of satisfying the kidnapper’s demands, without the help of Getty Sr.
When I first the trailer that originally had Kevin Spacey as Getty Sr, I was taken aback. The studio reportedly wanted an actor more distinguished than Mr Plummer, who was initially desired for the role by Scott. All the money in the world couldn’t save Spacey looking heavy in the make up department, looking unconvincingly seasoned and was just distracting.
The recasting was for the best and a blessing too. Scott deduced that Spacey’s turn made the character cold and insensible, making the character much easier to hate which would’ve downplayed the thematic power of the film. They replaced an Oscar winner with another one and Plummer’s role is a plum role indeed. He imbues Getty with eccentricity, dignity and vulnerability, qualities that in the hands of someone else could’ve rendered the character as disdainful and plain greedy. There’s something woeful and quietly powerful Plummer lends here, one deserving of Best Supporting Actor consideration.
Not to be overlooked is Williams, whose characterisation continues one of Scott’s trademarks; strong-willed female characters. one part that’s peculiar is when she flees from the paparazzi and is questioned on how a mother should cry for her son. Williams does wonders here by giving Gail tenacity, warmth and vigour to a woman who rarely folds under pressure; it’s terrific work by an actress who sells devastation really well.