This is as competent as you’d want from a Ridley Scott picture. A very slick procedural and real-life thriller (with some fictionalized elements) that boasts a game ensemble and a compelling examination of capitalism’s dehumanizing qualities. What do you do when someone is so enamored with his amassed earnings that he won’t spare you a penny for an essential service? How do you strategize in a life-or-death emergency when the one person who could end it all won’t budge an inch because of his avarice and vindictiveness? These are all questions that Scott covers here in his examination of the 1973 Getty kidnapping. An event that has all been forgotten now (well, until the new FX series Trust dredges it up again) and made pertinent again in these times of covetousness and cruelty.
We all know the special circumstances around this film—how Scott scrubbed out Kevin Spacey and hustled to replace him with Christopher Plummer mere weeks before the film’s release. It’s a wonder he did it in time, and so well. You hardly know Spacey had been there at all. Plummer’s performance is seamlessly integrated into the surroundings, and he’s so strong as J. Paul Getty that there’s no reason to even want Spacey’s version. Now, under normal circumstances, Plummer would not have received an Oscar nomination, good as he is. I think the main reason he got in was because the performance was shot in such a quick period, and he performs it like he had been preparing for months. I was more entertained by Michelle Williams, who gets completely into character (including a Transatlantic accent) and rages against the machine with the gravity of a Spartan. Mark Wahlberg, meanwhile, is a huge loaf of white bread and always looks so bored. He’s the only component that is a drag to watch (though the pacing itself also drags during the middle section).
I would file this under “nonessential” in Scott’s filmography, as it doesn’t give you more than a few hours of intrigue. It works in the moment. It has a few genuinely chilling scenes (those squeamish about blood, beware). However, you’re likely to forget most of it after a good night’s sleep. Nor is it something you’d want to watch more than once.