THIS almost-biopic of John Paul Getty and the kidnapping of his grandson is interesting in the factual retelling of the event, as well as the fact that actor Kevin Spacey was cast in the lead role but after sexual harassment and assault allegations, Christopher Plummer was given the job as the tycoon – and the scenes were done in just 9 days.
Such shenanigans behind the camera, of course, makes the movie exciting in this end-of-year box-office season.
But, kudos to Ridley Scott for the polished telling based on the 1995 book by John Pearson, Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortune and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty.
The opening scenes of the movie shows a teenager in a hippie kind of phase, with bell bottoms, and graceful mannerisms, strolling around Rome, at night. And he gets kidnapped.
It’s 1973. And the teenager is John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer, who is not related to Christopher), and the grandson of billionaire Getty.
It was a time, back in the 1970s, when Getty was deemed the “the richest man in the world” after his investments in Saudi and Kuwait oil.
But he was a distant father to his children, including the teenager’s father, J. Paul Getty Jr (Andrew Buchan), who married Abigail (Gail) Harris (Michelle Williams).
With four children, Jr finally asked dad for help, and was given a job in Rome. There, old man Getty seemed drawn to Getty III.
Told through flashbacks, as the kidnapping months grow long over months, we learn that Gail is divorced from the teen’s father, now a strung-out addict. When seeking child care payments from the old man, Gail stuns the billionaire in refusing all money except that needed for the children, and she gets full custody.
Hence, the US$17 million ransom is out of her league. But the kidnappers simply cannot understand how a family will not pay for the teen’s release given that grandpa is sinfully rich at US$1.2 billion.
An ex-CIA agent, Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg) is summoned by Getty to find the teenager, perhaps get a smaller ransom amount, while Gail desperately tries to raise the money.
She jets between Rome and Getty’s Sutton mansion (in England) in trying to get the old man to pay the ransom money.
He thinks that it would just lead to further kidnappings of his other 13 grandchildren. Good point.
But boy, does he love his money. And when Chase asks him, what would make him happy, the old man says, “More money”. We do get some insight into his mindset, although we may not be sympathetic to his particular conundrum.
While Gail has the main emotional role here, we get to see the teenager dealing with his kidnappers, up close and personal.
Also up close is the infamous teenager’s cut ear in the mail to the media. We get to see the cutting scene, with screams and gore. That’s an OMG moment, indeed.
It’s a horrible tale of greed versus family. I mean, the old man was a miser — he had a pay phone installed in his 72-room mansion for the use of servants and guests so that they would not feel obliged).
Michele as the mother gives a fine portrayal of an educated woman, using her brains to rescue her son, while keeping her sanity. There is no emotional breakdown, which the Italian press cannot seem to understand. We, so used to reality shows of The Kadarshians or Bollywood dramas and telenovelas, will need to grapple with this concept too.
When the ransom is paid, it is heartrending to see the teenager trying to escape his captors though the maze of an Italian village.
The movie is well worth the popcorn.