(Dir. Ridley Scott) (2017)
As C. P. Snow once pointed out, the conscience of the rich is different to that of mere mortals. This difference affords the key interest in Mr Scott’s rather lustreless thriller, based on the Getty kidnapping case, in which Christopher Plummer famously took over the role (as billionaire oil baron and professional Scrooge, J. Paul Getty) from Kevin Spacey, when Spacey’s work was already in the can. You can see the studio’s reasoning – Spacey had become persona non grata and had to wear a ton of make-up to look like the aged Getty; Plummer simulated Getty adequately without the distraction of heavy greasepaint, and was far better qualified to encapsulate the character’s weird nastiness without making him too coldly robotic (e.g. see his turn as Mike Wallace in The Insider). And then there were splendid opportunities for virtue-signalling (enhancing prospects of industry awards and media kudos) and free publicity, probably well justifying the $10m spent on re-takes.
Plummer justifies the switch with a neat and nuanced performance that overshadows the film, overshadows it such that we barely notice Mark Wahlberg and others in diverse procedural roles. Charlie Plummer (no relation), as the kidnapped grandson John Paul Getty III, copping heavy physical and psychological drubbing, and Michelle Williams as his feisty mother, are both good. The various (Calabrian?) kidnappers mug like extras in a spaghetti western but Romain Duris gives his man a little humanity (without quite nailing the accent). The film is beautifully shot, as one would expect from this director, and the locations are choice, but the essential problem is the wafer-thin scenario (it is an episode, rather than a story) and the laborious, repetitive pacing. In presenting what could have been an electrifying account of one isolated woman’s fight to save a loved one, in the face of total insouciance from granddad, we instead get a milk-and-water amalgam of A Mighty Heart and A Christmas Carol.
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