The most controversial thing about this movie will forever be the recasting of Kevin Spacey with Christopher Plummer in the role of J. Paul Getty, costing director Ridley Scott and the studios roughly $10 million in reshoots to pull it off. Was it worth it? Will it make any difference at all?
Based on true events (Google it, it’s a fascinating story!), this intricately woven time-jumping tale spins the harrowing account of young 16-year-old J. Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer–no relation to Christopher) who, while gallivanting in 1974 Rome, Italy, is abducted by some desperate criminals, under the supervision of Cinquanta (Romain Duris), a known bad guy. Taken to a farm outside of Calabria (my ancestral home!), Paul is kept under lock and key.
Meanwhile, Paul’s divorced mom, Abigail Harris (Michelle Williams) receives the dreadful news from the kidnappers: give us $17 million or else the kid dies! Now, what the bad guys don’t know is that Abigail is practically broke, having to raise four children on her own, and being ostracized from the vast Getty Oil empire fortune. She has no choice but to go to super-billionaire ‘dad’, J. Paul Getty (impeccably played by Christopher Plummer) and beg for the money. Imagine her horror when Getty says no! Even though he says he loves the boy, he’ll not give in to any ransom demands. Ever!
Instead, Getty has his trusted advisor and former CIA operative, Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg) intervene to find young Paul… but as cheaply as possible! Together with Abigail, they consult the local police as Cinquanta is getting nervous and the local paparazzi are swarming like sharks smelling fresh blood in the water. After a promising lead pans out on Paul’s hiding place, they find that he’s been sold. But to whom? To a local Mafia outfit in town that doesn’t play games, that’s who. They pull a VanGogh and slice off Paul’s ear (yuck!) and mail it to the press just to prove they mean business, and then drop their ransom to $4 million.
Abigail, trying to maintain her sanity through all this, is finally allowed to have $1 million from dear ol’ ‘dad’, as “it’s a tax deduction”. Geez, Louise, this old man makes Scrooge look like Mother Theresa! Along with Chase, Abigail sets out to deliver the money and get her son back, but will there be a happily ever after? Based on John Pearson’s book, Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty, David Scarpa (2008’s The Day The Earth Stood Still) did the screenplay adaptation which, if you read the real, true story of what happened, makes this movie pale in comparison.
You really have to give major kudos to director Ridley Scott who managed to splice together this film, given the circumstances surrounding it. Reshoots, recasting, and matching up everything to make the film cohesive enough, not only to be entertaining, but Oscar-worthy for its acting and direction. Although the first half of the movie is a bit confusing, what with all the time-line jumps, once the 1974 main story gets rolling, the film settles down to it’s gritty and unsettling depiction of the kidnapping and, even worse, the unflinching look at the patriarch Getty, a heartless miser that Christopher Plummer sinks his teeth into with the voracity of a lion. I smell Oscar gold here, people!
Equally as good are the supporting cast: Williams as the suffering mother, Wahlberg as Getty’s ‘yes-man’, Charlie Plummer for his emotional reactions, and Duris as the Italian mobster, Cinquanta, who gives a wonderfully multi-layered performance. In the role of Getty, sr., one can only imagine how Spacey was in this role. Speculation that a special or alternate-cut DVD featuring him is already being prepared. Maybe included in a “Special Edition” blu-ray with a disclaimer, no doubt? We’ll see.
Mel Gibson stars as caring businessman man Tom Mullen, who is also a multi-millionaire and loving father to his young son, Sean (Brawley Nolte–son of noted actor Nick Nolte). While Tom and his wife Kate (Rene Russo) are attending their kids science fair, their son Sean is kidnapped by Maris (Lili Taylor), a caterer for the Mullens, along with criminals Clark (Liev Schreiber), Cubby (Donnie Wahlberg), Miles (Evan Handler), and Detective Jimmy Shaker (Gary Sinise), the mastermind behind the kidnapping and Maris’ boyfriend.
After Tom and Kate receive an e-mail from the kidnappers demanding $2 million, Tom calls the FBI and agrees to the demands, but ultimately refuses to give the money to Cubby when the guy doesn’t give Tom directions to where his son is! A fight ensues and the FBI intervene, shooting Cubby. Uh-oh! Shaker calls (disguising his voice) and arranges another drop off, but Tom is pissed by this time and does the unexpected: he appears on television to offer a bounty on the kidnappers’ heads, promising to withdraw the bounty and drop all charges if the kidnappers return his son alive and unharmed!
Despite the pleadings of Kate and the FBI, Tom sticks to his crazy plan. Shaker, scared of Tom’s actions, lures Kate to a meeting where he tells her to pay the ransom or Sean will die before ditching Sean’s blood stained t-shirt. Tom responds by increasing the bounty to $4 million! Shaker calls Tom and demands to be paid, but Tom still refuses, and Shaker fires a gunshot after Tom hears Sean scream for help, leading Tom and Kate to believe their son is dead. Well, this escalated quickly!
Shaker, realizing his plans are kaput, calls in the NYPD and kills his crew, making it look like Miles shot first and leaving Shaker as the hero in the rescue of the boy. Clever bastard! However, just as Tom is about to reward Shaker with a sizable check for his “help”, Sean tips off his dad that THIS guy is NOT who he seems in a harrowing scene. The ending is your typical knock-down, drag-out fight to the death, but up until then, it’s a twisty-turning roller coaster of a ride!
A super script by Richard Price (Clockers) and Alexander Ignon (The Wedding Dress) and nicely directed by Ron Howard, this scintillating movie pushed all the right buttons with the audience, making it a winning box office bonanza and garnering several top awards. But the script was only as good as the actors and this movie had a damn good bunch. This is Gibson at his peak (before he went nutsy-cuckoo), showing off his acting prowess with little effort. Then you got Russo, Sinise, Schrieber, Taylor, Wahlberg, et al. Wow. This must have been fun for director Howard to direct so many talented people… or a headache, with so many personalities.