One thing you can do when you have all the money in the world is replace your star.
That’s the story – and the ghost – that dominates Ridley Scott’s latest film. Following a series of allegations, Kevin Spacey was summarily whitewashed from the screen and replaced by Christopher Plummer in one of the most public high-wire acts in movie history.
Could they really re-shoot and repackage the whole movie with a new actor in the leading role within six weeks and get the movie out in its schedule release slot? Doing so has proved the film’s major selling-point and certainly that’s what tugs at the viewer throughout.
You watch, trying to discern a bad cut, a dodgy bit of effects trickery, to see if Plummer will have some sort of Ready-Brek glow around him where he’s been inserted into a scene, or maybe there’s a bit where they’ve used Spacey’s body and then used face replacement tech to drop in a bit of Plummer?
First thing to say is that there’s a lot more Plummer in this than I imagined. Word was that Spacey had only done 10 or so days and was a peripheral if showy side-attraction, making easily deletable. Well, Plummer ends up dominating this version. He’s in it a lot, playing John Paul Getty, “not only the richest man in the world but the richest man in the history of the world”.
Plummer gets the cantankerous old skin flint perfectly, turning in a sort of Scrooge act and refusing to pony up the ransom when his grandson Paul is kidnapped on the streets of Rome in 1973.
Paul is played by Charlie Plummer (apparently no relation in real life) and he’s a wide-eyed, floppy-haired fawn, passively passing away the time at the hands of his Calabrian captors, who, through the compassionate face of French actor Romain Duris playing gangster Cinquanta, demand 17 million dollars.
Michelle Williams is the teenager’s mother, Gail, divorced from Getty’s drug-addled son yet now turning to the old man for the money. Even if he does have the dosh, 17 mill is still a lot and the geezer won’t budge, sending in his own security guy Fletcher Chace (played by Mark Wahlberg in a Jensen Interceptor and big glasses.)
The film bats back and forth. I didn’t care for Paul, nor for Gail, despite Williams’ decent, crisply-accented performance (I think she’s doing Kate Hepburn, though it’s more like Jennifer Jason Leigh’s Rosalind Russel impression from The Hudsucker Proxy). I certainly didn’t give a monkey’s about Mark Wahlberg in a badly underwritten role.
No, I cared about the grumpy old git. I couldn’t take my eyes of Plummer’s Getty whenever he was on screen. His speech about only trusting in beautiful objects which never change and never disappoint is brilliantly delivered and if he mugs away through the finale, he can’t be blamed – while the rest of the film seeks a story and the cops and a Mum search for a kidnapped kid, Plummer gives the film the manic energy and icy heart it’s looking for.