On a hot July night in 1973, a Calabria underworld good squad kidnapped John Paul Getty III from central Rome and bundled him away into rural southern hiding. At the time, Italy was a ransom nirvana and the 16-year-old Getty, the bad-boy grandson of one of the richest men in the world, a prime piece of flesh.
Like his late brother Tony, Ridley Scott likes crime thrillers of moral weight. Here, he moves fast and hard into the tense family dynamics that saw the elder Getty refuse to cough up the ransom, insisting concessions to bad guy only spawned more of them. Not all saw him as sincere.
Grandpa Getty (Christopher Plummer) is a tough customer who knows human nature, loathes freeloaders (they want $17 million), and resists paying for what he already “owns,” his grandson (“If you can count your money, you’re not a billionaire…”) Flashbacks make it clear the patriarch was never generous with money, even to family. The boy’s mother is Abigail Harris (Michelle Williams), perceived by outsiders as boundlessly wealthy despite a divorce from her Getty spouse. She’s not.
The patriarch finally asks a negotiator for Getty Oil and a former CIA operative named Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg) to intervene in the dragged-out mess. By all accounts Chase was a stony middle-aged figure who deplored the limelight. But Wahlberg’s Chase is a pace car, front and center once inserted into the action.
When Getty offers $1 tops, a local newspaper gets one of Paul’s ears as reply. Things grow edgier still when the gang’s mistrust of Chase nearly pushes a December deal off the table.
Scott, 80, is a pro’s pro. Worried the Kevin Spacey scandal (Spacey was cast as Getty) would focus viewer attention on the actor, he found another pro’s pro, Plummer, then 87, and quickly reshot the Spacey scenes. Plummer not only saved the day but also may have made it brighter. He delivers a moody crustiness if not a haberdasher’s contempt for anything perishable (he preferred priceless paintings and antiques). Frenchman Romain Duris “Cinquanta,” the lead kidnapper, but the gang is window dressing.
What is one human life worth? Is it as much as a Greek vase or little more than a trifle, or perhaps nothing at all? Scott explores each of these paths with stylish purpose.