It is kind of tragedy this film will be more remembered for the removal of disgraced actor Kevin Spacey than for being a fine telling of the 1973 kidnapping of John Paul Getty III, grandson of the richest man in the world. Spacey had been cast as the elderly Getty, the film was complete, trailers were in theatres and online, it was set to premiere at the AFI festival at the end of November, when Ridley Scott and the studio made the announcement they could not in good conscience move forward with a film featuring Spacey amidst the litany of sexual allegations and accusations being leveled at the actor.
Scott announced all of his scenes would be reshot over ten days with Christopher Plummer in the role of Getty, thereby erasing Spacey from the film. It was a stunning historical decision, but one that Scott felt was essential for his film, and the only way to escape the dark cloud of Spacey. Off they went on location to redo the sequences, then under brutal pressure editing the film using the newly shot scenes to meet the awards qualifying dates. That Scott accomplished the feat is extraordinary, that Plummer is so good in the film is a slap in the face to Spacey, one he richly deserves. With the erasure of him from his film it is safe to say he is career dead, the grandson of John Paul Getty (Plummer) was kidnapped and held for ransom.
Taken off the streets in 1973, sixteen year old Getty (Charlie Plummer, no relation) is kidnapped and held for ransom, the logic of the kidnappers being his grandfather, Getty, will pay Being the richest man on the planet. What they do not count on, is the old man’s resolve in that paying them could open up the chance his other fourteen grandchildren could be taken as well. The old fellow comes of as cold, remote, but his reasons are sound, he is trying to protect his family.
Gail (Michelle Williams) fights, does everything to try to get her boy released, to raise the money, which she does not have too. When the boys ear arrives, a sign they mean business, that the villains are prepared to send home back in pieces, the Getty family is placed under enormous pressure to act.
They bring in a former CIA operative portrayed with quiet authority by Mark Wahlberg, doing some real acting again, but can he bring the young man home.
The heart and soul of the film is Williams, one of the finest actresses working in film right now. Terrified, as any parent would be, she cannot understand why Getty will not pay the ransom for his own blood. Not able count on her useless husband Getty II she does everything she knows to bring her son home. Williams brings to the role the abject terror a parent would feel in a situation like this, the hurt of her family refusing to turn over what was easy money to them. As a fiercely private, cautious man, Plummer does not ever make Getty a monster, just firm, and remote.
Charlie Plummer and Wahlberg are both very good in the film but the truth be told the film belongs to Ridley Scott, who after the film was finished had the courage to risk the entire tone by recasting. He knew with Spacey in the film it was box office poison, he had become a pariah.
It is a very good film, but one cannot help be distracted by the recasting of Plummer. I give Scott a great deal of credit for his courage and technical marvel, and for creating a fine film.