To most of us, our family is everything but J. Paul Getty is unlike most of us as he places money above everything else. Director Ridley Scott showcases Getty’s greed in the cinematic depiction of the infamous kidnapping of his grandson, John Paul Getty III. Based on true events, this movie may strengthen viewers’ appreciation for their loved ones rather than the almighty dollar at the conclusion of its 133-minute runtime.
In 1973, 16-year-old John Paul Getty III is kidnapped while walking the streets of Rome late one night. The reason for his kidnapping? He’s the grandson of oil tycoon J. Paul Getty, the richest man in the history of the world. Flashbacks reveal events that lead to his parents’ divorce in which his mother, Gail Harris (Michelle Williams), rejected alimony in favor of full custody of her children.
Gail receives a phone call from one of the kidnappers demanding $17 million. She then attempts to contact her father-in-law over the phone only to watch him refuse to pay any ransom in a press conference on live TV. Understandably irate, Gail heads to Getty’s estate where she meets Fletcher Chace (Mark Wahlberg), a former CIA operative who’s been assigned the task of investigating her son’s case as well as securing his release.
One of Paul’s captors, Cinquanta, exhibits a sympathetic nature while looking after him in Italy. Tensions rise as weeks pass by without the ransom being paid which leads to Paul being sold off to another criminal organization. The new group of captors is less patient and more aggressive as they cut off John’s ear even after lowering the ransom to $4 million. After reluctantly signing over legal parental rights to her husband, Gail receives only $1 million from Getty since the first million is considered a “tax deductible” amount.
J. Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer) finally agrees to pay the entire ransom after being verbally berated by Fletcher Chace and chooses to void the parental agreement, reverting full custody back to Gail Harris. The kidnappers leave Paul at a construction site but in typical hostage situation fashion, they decide to tie up loose ends as they’ve been instructed to locate and kill Paul before he is reunited with his mother. The search takes place in a nearby town where Cinquanta attacks a captor trying to grab Paul before handing him over to Chace.
J. Paul Getty eventually passed away and left Gail Harris in charge of managing her children’s’ inheritance until they are of age. However, his company was set up as a charitable trust, meaning his income was tax-free but not spendable. Instead, he invested much of his money in paintings, sculptures and other artifacts, most of which can be found in the Getty Museum located in Los Angeles, California.
Whether you’ve heard the story on the news as it happened or recently discovered the tribulation this young man experienced, I recommend you see this movie soon or even watch the FX series Trust. And for those who prefer to read, there’s the 1995 book by John Pearson titled Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortunes And Misfortunes Of The Heirs Of J. Paul Getty which the film is based on. This is an interesting look at the effect that insurmountable wealth can have on a person’s priorities.
4/5 Stars – Highly Recommended
PS: I just want to quickly give credit to the sole screenwriter of this serious story, David Scarpa, who’s also contributed to the following films: The Last Castle (2001) and The Day The Earth Stood Still (2008). Also thought I should mention that despite not winning an award, this motion picture was nominated for three Golden Globe Awards – Best Actress (Michelle Williams), Best Supporting Actor (Christopher Plummer) and Best Director (Ridley Scott).