The Boss of Everything

By Jason Solomons


One thing you can do when you have ‘all the money in the world’ is replace your star. That’s the ghost story that dominates Ridley Scott’s latest highly polished yet uninspired film. As is well known, following a series of allegations about inappropriate behaviour, 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 reshoot and repackage the whole movie with a new actor in the leading role within six weeks and get the movie out in its scheduled release slot? Well, studios have a lot of money, and quick maths must have told them the $10 million it would cost was worth it. The irony is that if John Paul Getty had been a movie mogul, he’d never have allowed it.

De-Spaceying the film has proved its major selling point, and it overshadows all else. 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 digitally inserted into a scene, or maybe there’s a bit where they’ve used Spacey’s body and some face-replacement technology to drop in a bit of Plummer. I watched hard and couldn’t spot
any ropey joins, only Plummer’s twinkling eyes, like a snake eyeing up its chance to seize a moment. 

Indeed, what struck me was that there’s a lot more Plummer in this than I imagined. Word was that Spacey was a peripheral, if showy, (and heavily prostheticised) side- attraction, making him easily deletable. But 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 skinflint 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. It was a case that captured the attention of the world at the time, yet somehow in Scott’s hands it barely held mine.

Paul is played by Charlie Plummer (no relation in real life, and much better showcased in the forthcoming film Lean on Pete), 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 plays his 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 grumpy geezer won’t budge, sending in his own security guy, Fletcher Chace (played by Mark Wahlberg in a Jensen Interceptor and big sunglasses).

Oddly, I didn’t care much for the kidnapped Paul, nor for Gail, despite Williams’ crisply accented performance. And I certainly didn’t give a monkey’s about Wahlberg in a badly underwritten role. No, I cared about the obsessive, grumpy old git. I couldn’t take my eyes off Plummer’s Getty whenever he was on screen. His speech about only trusting in beautiful objects that never change and never disappoint is brilliantly delivered, and if he hams it up through the finale, he can’t be blamed. While the rest of the film is seeking a way through the story, Plummer steals the show by giving it the manic energy and icy heart it’s looking for. I hope he and his agent held the studio to ransom.