You probably already know the story of the Getty kidnapping.
If you don’t remember the actual 1973 case, in which John Paul Getty III was abducted in Rome and his grandfather — oil billionaire John Paul Getty — initially refused to pay the ransom, you may have caught Ridley Scott’s retelling of the story in the action-packed All the Money in the World, which hit theaters last December.
With the Getty story back in pop culture (and headlines, thanks to Kevin Spacey’s ouster from Money after sexual harassment and assault allegations) FX’s Trust (Sunday, 10 ET/PT, ★★★ out of four) might seem redundant: yet another version of a well-trod saga. But to its credit, the series, from Slumdog Millionaire director Danny Boyle and writer Simon Beaufoy, adds to the narrative a version of the story that’s more black comedy than action-adventure, more heightened drama take than sober Oscar bait.
Trust aims to tell a broader story of the powerful, wealthy and dysfunctional Getty family. The elder (Donald Sutherland, in fine and haughty form) is the patriarch of a wilting family tree, a miser encamped in a British estate with a harem and butler. He’s disappointed in his offsprings’ drug habits or career choices, including young Paul’s (Harris Dickinson) bohemian lifestyle in Rome. When Paul asks for $6,000 to cover gambling and drug debts, Getty shows his grandson the door.
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What’s likely to be the most controversial aspect of the series (and which the Getty family has already denounced) is the depiction of Paul as complicit in his own kidnapping. He orchestrates it in desperation and anger, after his grandfather spurns him and his creditors come to collect. Eventually, the plan spirals out of control and he becomes a victim. Meanwhile, most of his family come to believe it’s a stunt, including his father (Michael Esper); family fixer James Fletcher Chace (Brendan Fraser); and Getty himself, who famously declares that he won’t pay “a single, solitary cent” in ransom. Paul’s mother, Gail (Hilary Swank), tries her best to fight for him.
Hilary Swank as Gail Getty on “Trust.”
Hilary Swank as Gail Getty on “Trust.” (Photo: Philipe Antonello/FX)
Despite its initial focus on a violent and traumatic event, the series has fun with its larger-than-life characters and beautiful settings. It’s zippy and fast-paced (most of the time), and it has plenty of room for dark humor. The series has a heightened and stylish feeling. Chace often addresses the camera with platitudes and insights. And Trust makes frequent use of split screens, bright colors and a period soundtrack. The writers and directors treat the real-life events with incredulity and wonder.
Trust is extremely well-cast. Sutherland is predictably solid, but Fraser is the surprise, in what’s perhaps his big comeback vehicle. As Chace, he savvily seesaws between dopey Texan and terrifying enforcer, endearing and shocking in equal measure. Dickinson is magnetic as the young Paul, expressing the arrogance and swagger of a wealthy 16-year-old and the naïveté of a typical one. Swank, however (at least in the first three episodes made available for review) is underused as Gail Getty, relegated to reacting off the men in her life.
Brendan Fraser as Fletcher Chase on “Trust.”
Brendan Fraser as Fletcher Chase on “Trust.” (Photo: Oliver Upton/FX)
Perhaps we didn’t need another Hollywood adaptation of the Getty saga. (And maybe audiences don’t want one either, since All the Money didn’t make much noise at the box office.) But Trust adds to the conversation rather than repeating it. You can count on its pulpy drama, even if the fictional Gettys couldn’t count on each other.