FX’s Trust is an interesting series before you even have a chance to start digging into the lurid affairs of the Getty family and the kidnapping drama that brought even more attention to the clan. With its real-life crime pedigree, the 10-part drama is following in the footsteps of one of the network’s biggest hits, with The People v. O.J. Simpson. Curiously, though, the series is one of FX’s biggest projects that doesn’t involve Ryan Murphy (or Marvel Television), and instead welcomes director Danny Boyle and writer-producer Simon Beaufoy (The Hunger Games) to the cable channel for their take on a story that had been adapted for the big screen not long ago.
Ridley Scott’s All the Money In the World failed to make waves at the box office, and garnered more attention for the last-minute recasting of Kevin Spacey with Christopher Plummer as family patriarch John Paul Getty than anything else. The move earned Plummer an Academy Award nomination, but did little to entice moviegoers. And with the film arriving on home video in the early part of April, it will already have been supplanted by Trust, which not only offers a more entertaining take on the events, but does so in part through the incredible performances of Donald Sutherland as John Paul Getty and Brendan Fraser as Fletcher Chase, the investigator hired to locate and recover J. Paul Getty III after his kidnapping by the Italian Mafia.
Rather than deliver a 10-hour thriller on par with something like Ron Howard’s Ransom, Beaufoy approaches the subject matter by first exploring the inner workings of the Getty family. Never shying away from the lurid or sensational, his script turns the Getty dynamic into a prurient soap opera, wherein Sutherland’s oil tycoon haunts an enormous Tudor mansion, lording over a veritable harem of mistresses, dismissing his son J. Paul Getty Jr. (Michael Esper), and throwing lavish parties for the arrival of his newest acquisition: a pet lion. Sutherland is remarkable as Getty Sr. He delivers a performance that is at once intimidating and sardonic, and is so commanding it’s rather a shock when the series moves away from his gravitational pull to focus more attention on Fraser’s Chase and, of course, Harris Dickinson, who plays the Getty heir and kidnapping victim the family doesn’t seem in any hurry to get back.
The first hour of Trust so fully immerses the viewer in the gaudy excess of one of the richest men in the world that the transition to Fletcher’s investigation in hour two, and the deep dive into how JPG III got himself into the hands of the mafia is a little jarring. But the first three hours — all of which were directed by Boyle — are so lively and entertaining, and so full of the filmmaker’s formalist flourishes that it’s easy to overlook the fact that they act more like a three-hour prologue to the rest of the story than they do episodic installments of a season of television.
‘The House of Getty’ is Boyle at his most restrained, which considering all that the hour — that’s no exaggeration, the actual runtime of the episode is 60 minutes without commercials — delivers is really saying something. The episode begins with a suicide and quickly moves on to a eulogy that borders on sociopathic, before introducing the audience to Getty Sr.’s gaggle of live-in girlfriends — headed by Anna Chancellor as Penelope Kitson — as well as the aforementioned children, JPG Jr. and Gordon (Norbert Leo Butz, Bloodline). Beaufoy and Boyle luxuriate in the sordid soapiness of it all; there’s even a cheeky butler, Bullimore, played by Silas Carson who quickly rises to the top of the manservant ranks in film and television.
But as good of a time as the two are having, and as entertainingly rendered as the series is in its early going, there’s an early sense that Trust is going to run longer than it needs to. There are a lot of moving parts to this story, many of which are worth exploring and, to its credit, Trust is determined to give them all their turn in the spotlight. With the cast that’s involved, one that also includes Hillary Swank in a terrific performance as JPG III’s mother Gail, it’s easy to see why. And unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve no doubt caught wind of Brendan Fraser’s return after years away from the public eye, which many are dubbing his "renaissance". When his rendition of Fletcher first truly takes command of the screen, the buzz surrounding the actor’s comeback is also made easy to understand.
Trust is mercurial, though. It feels as if it is shifting genres and points of view as often as Boyle does filming techniques. That can be off-putting for some, and Fraser seems placed there as much to entertain as he is to ease the concerns of the audience. His is a reassuring presence, so when his face fills the camera to addresses the audience directly, it’s as though the series is asking the viewer to place their trust in him. It is an unexpectedly sincere transition from the first hour’s smirking insanity, but it works — almost too well.
After spending an hour in Fraser’s company, it’s a challenge to feel as connected with the material and the characters when he’s not occupying the screen. Sutherland is certainly capable of pulling the viewer in and holding their attention, while Swank provides a necessary emotional conduit to the pending plight of the kidnapped Getty, but they are also inherently chilly characters, and there is a noticeable drop in temperature whenever Fraser is absent.
Trust is a big swing for FX, one that seems even more important in the wake of Ryan Murphy’s departure for Netflix. And, in the first three hours anyway, it delivers for the network an entertaining and fascinating new series marked by dazzling filmmaking that is invigorating to watch in spite of its ever-changing execution. It all adds up to a series that offers more than a retelling of real-world events. Trust is so confident in its delivery of this chapter in the Getty story it practically convinces you this is the first time it’s being told.
Trust continues next Sunday with ‘Lone Star’ @10pm on FX.