Released: 4th January 2018
Seen: 5th January 2018
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Written by: David Scarpa
Produced by: Imperative Entertainment, RedRum Films, Scott Free Productions, TriStar Productions
Starring: Michelle Williams, Mark Wahlberg & Christopher Plummer
On the 10th of July 1973, John Paul Getty the third was kidnapped in Italy. The kidnappers demanded $17million for his return and when asked for the money, John Paul Getty said he wouldn’t pay the ransom for his grandson. What followed was an elaborate chain of events to try and rescue the grandson of the richest man on the planet, a plan that risked disaster at every turn. It’s one of the most fascinating stories of someone in power holding the careers and lives of others in his hand and being willing to lose them all just so he didn’t have to let go of that power… and god it’s amazing. It’s a gripping story that seems almost unbelievable, except that it absolutely happened and all the major notes of this plotline are real. It’s a grand gripping tale that is executed perfectly and I’m just going to move on to talking about the actors now because, let’s face it, that’s what everyone cares about with this particular film.
Let’s get the elephant out of the way, this film shouldn’t exist. This film was finished and ready to be released for Christmas when news came out that the movie accidentally starred a sexual harasser in the key role of John Paul Getty (For my thoughts on this individual, I direct you to my honourable mention in my Top 10 Best Films of 2017 list). They had no time and Ridley Scott decided to do the impossible… replace a major actor in a complete film. That story itself is fascinating, there’s a fantastic article in the financial review about how Plummer made this performance happen in 9 shooting days with no prep time and I heartily suggest reading it because it’s a gripping story that leads me to state that even if Christopher Plummer had been cast from the beginning, had a year to prepare and didn’t have to try and get his performance done quickly as he did, I don’t think he could’ve done better. Christopher Plummer didn’t just pull off one hell of a miracle by making this happen so quickly, he pulled off a performance that dances between a charming old man who clearly had the ability to get anything he wanted, and a calculating billionaire who wouldn’t spend a dollar on an umbrella in a torrential downpour. He makes the character sing, landing somewhere between a grandfather and a Scrooge, you can tell that he genuinely loves his grandson which makes it so much more painful when he denies any request to pay the ransom. If Mr Plummer doesn’t get the Golden Globe that he’s nominated for on Monday, I will be shocked as hell because the man earned it.
Michelle Williams also earns all the praise in the world, her take on the role of Gail is incredible, she is also straddling the line between terrified mother and a woman who has had enough of everyone in her life caring more about money than they do about people. The idea of material goods being the most important thing in the world to a Getty is hammered home throughout the film but Gail is there to remind everyone that what matters more than anything is getting her son back home. She would’ve probably done anything to get that 17 million and there are several moments where you can see her formulating plans on how to get the ransom without a single word needing to be said. A flicker of her eyes and you’re already picturing the auction of a stolen Matisse that she plans for a split second before realising it’s impossible. Even with the repeated setbacks, nevertheless she persists and that makes her one of the strongest characters in this movie. It’s a grand performance worthy of as much praise as Plummer, it’s no wonder why she’s the only other performer in the movie to be getting an awards nomination on Monday, don’t be shocked when she get’s one come Oscar time.
Mark Wahlberg has the thankless task of being there to push the story along, playing the former secret agent who was hired to retrieve the kidnapped Getty III is a role that really consists of making sure that the Michelle William’s character get’s from point A to point B and it could’ve been a very bland role but Mark brings his A game. He filled the character with a weary charm, someone who has been doing this so long that it’s effortless to him and he thinks little of it, but slowly throughout the film is trying to deal with working for a man who won’t cough up the money to save his own family. There’s a slow building of character that is all the more impressive when you recall that a lot of his scenes are with Plummer, so he had to redo them and make it fit. He did, it does, and he deserves a ton of praise for it.
Lastly, let’s address Ridley Scott, the director who had a film in the can and ready to go but then had to come back and redo it. It’s very rare for me to notice the hand of a director on a film, good ones tend to have style choices certainly but they often just have to get a good performance and set everything up… Ridley had to basically make a third of a film that perfectly intercut with the rest. He had an uphill battle, but he did it. I have no idea how but if you didn’t know that this film had extensive reshoots to replace an actor, you wouldn’t ever be able to guess from the film. It’s expert craftsmanship, he managed to keep everything going, he created a gripping drama that makes you hold your breath with every passing minute. He proved why he’s one of the best with this film because on top of it just being a great film in general, the man had to make several sections of it twice because he decided (Smartly) to get rid of the problem actor who was going to destroy a great film just by his presence. It’s spellbinding and I dare say this is going to go down as one of Ridley’s best accomplishments.
The tale of how the film got made is as gripping and fascinating as the film itself. It’s a masterclass in filmmaking with every element working perfectly together, which is still shocking to me considering how many of those elements had to be done twice. It’s what filmmakers should aspire to create, I’m beyond stunned with how great it is and I’m stating this here and now, look for this in my best of 2018 list because I will be goddamn shocked if there are 10 films better than it in the next 52 weeks of the year.
Note: Trying a new thing with the scoring, cos giving an overall score is good but I feel elements of the films deserve their own score… if it’s a bad idea, let me know in the comments.