With Paul’s ear off, and the ransom deal back on, we’re moving towards the climax of the tale; but there are twists yet to come, extraordinarily emotive moments, and not a few surprises in this convoluted saga of money and familial distrust.
John Paul Getty III himself it was, if we are to believe it, who suggested cutting off his ear and sending it as a final ransom demand – partly because he thought it would galvanise his tardy family, partly because it seemed this sacrifice was the only way to convince the kidnappers not to give up and just kill him.
The white, egg-shaped phone-booth at which Gail and Chace wait for a call is pregnant with suggestiveness; the two bond over their shared faith, his in her, and hers in her son. He reveals that he has a 12-year-old son, news to us and to Gail; a sign of his shame at the way he has failed his own family.
Before we get to that point, though, we see the last chapter in the kidnappers’ bungling scheme; they post the ransom demand with the severed ear in the middle of a postal strike, and have to break into the post office to retrieve it. Meanwhile the doctor treating Paul realises that he’s getting worse because he’s allergic to penicillin.
Gail recognises the ear from Paul’s freckles – remind us, why didn’t they send a finger so it could be fingerprinted? – and confronts the still reluctant Getty Sr, finally talking him into going halves with his son Paul Jr on the ransom. Paul Jr is equally reluctant to become indebted to his father – he reckons that’s what killed his brother George – and it finally takes the intervention of President Nixon (an almost off-screen cameo by Rob Brydon) to broker a deal which grants Getty Sr political favours if he settles the ransom.
As an aside, butler Bullimore, still puzzling over the gardener’s mysterious list of plants, finds him gone; and Getty’s concubine Penelope abandons him, leaving the old man sitting in his car in the rain.
Gangster Primo is now in his element, planning an operatic final act to the drama, complete with white suitcases full of money, delivered by a white-clad Gail and Chase, in a white car, in the snow. It all looks beautiful, and what more appropriate music to accompany the scene than Puccini’s Nessun Dorma – ‘None Shall Sleep’?
The journey to the ransom point is an ordeal, and when a meeting is finally achieved, middleman ‘Fifty’ reveals his real name, Stefano Nizzuto, in order to reassure Gail. Surely he has sealed his own fate with this ill-considered action?
When the money finally reaches Primo, to great jubilation, we’re reminded by the presence of a thumping great Sherman tank in the cave that there’s still the matter of sealing the deal with the Americans. Capo Salvatore is still quite inclined to kill the boy, but John Paul warns him not to kill the golden goose – there would an empire to be built from future kidnappings.
So the boy is finally released into the arms of his waiting mother, meeting, appropriately, at a Getty petrol station, overlooking the sea which would be the key to the next chapter – the inevitable consequences of this epoch-making incident.
After this cathartic episode – we knew the boy was coming back, but the odds were so stacked against him right until the final moment – surely all that’s left is the happy ending? But these are the Gettys, and everything they touch turns not to gold, but rather to ashes.
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