The 1973 kidnapping of John Paul Getty III receives its second telling in several months with Trust, the magnetic, frenetic and fitful new FX series debuting Sunday. It follows by what feels like minutes of Ridley Scott’s big-screen All the Money in the World.
But the 10-episode Trust has enough differences in its details — historical, artistic — to merit a revisit. It has a personality all its own, even if that personality is as splintered as the split and sectioned screens occasionally used by Danny Boyle in the three episodes he directs (they’re the ones made available to critics).
The series, created by Simon Beaufoy, opens with young Paul (let’s call him III to distinguish from the tale’s other two) running scared through a field of sunflowers, his Jagger locks putting the un-blossomed buds to shame. Then we’re at an L.A. mansion party — the “HOLLYWOOD” sign, with “1973” added to it, gives us grounding and signals that Boyle won’t hold back from artsy florish — and a middle-aged drug-addled Getty of some unknown specificity plunges a barbecue fork into his gut as horrified loved ones watch through garage windows.
Wealth, we see immediately, is no blessing or protection in the jaded Trust, especially as the action switches to the massive English country estate of John Paul Getty himself, a setting somewhere between museum and mausoleum.
Indeed, the far-flung clan is gathering for the funeral of Getty’s fork-wielding son, descending on a place where wealth is a curdling, corrupting force capable of turning relatives into so many vampires. There are even four Brides of Dracula, girlfriends of the old man (Donald Sutherland) who sit and wait to be called for their 20 minutes of sex (or what passes for it) or perhaps for a group meal where the old codger humiliates his harem by having each plead for a spot in his will.
Into this grim castle’s funeral barges the jeans-clad, long-haired hippie grandson (Harrison Dickinson, Beach Rats), who, in one of the early episode’s real jolts, soon charms the crotchety old man and, very briefly, jumps to the front of the lucrative succession line.
Doesn’t last long. The kid’s envious father slips grandpa a porn magazine that includes a centerfold of none other than the youngest Getty, and #III is out the door without a penny of the $6,000 he needs to pay off his mafia drug dealers back in Rome.
The creepy, antique tone of the first episode gives way to the second’s more rollicking style — think Boyle’s Trainspotting — with Brendan Fraser, a ten-gallon hat and a dusty Texas accent aboard as the old man’s head of security, sent to Rome to track down the kidnapped 16-year-old scion (Dickinson looks too old by a half-decade, but no real harm done).
Fraser’s slightly comic cowboy swagger (and his so-far-unique ability to break the fourth wall) is a bit jarring at first, but he certainly puts a halt to the Industrialist Gothic tone.
And by Episode 3, titled “La Dolce Vita,” Trust is swerving into yet other stylistic terrain, a high-octane flashback to the grandson’s libertine days of sex, drugs & rock & roll in pre-kidnapping Rome, full of cocaine, glam rock, a gorgeous Italian girl, her beautiful twin sister, a double-dealing pal and student riots just outside the door of the crumbling hippie pad where they all shack up.
By this point — long before, actually — we already know that the old man won’t pay a penny and that III’s mother (played by Hillary Swank with a humanity on rare display among this crowd) is the only Getty who gives a damn.
Plotwise, the big difference between Trust and All the Money in the World — and maybe history, depending on one’s preferred conspiracy theory — is that the FX version makes clear III’s arrangement of his own kidnapping (those pesky debts). That’s not a spoiler — when his low-level dealer outsources the crime to actual mobsters, the kid and the series land in uncharted territory.
We know how it turns out, of course, but Dickinson has us caring enough about III to dread the whole ear thing everyone knows is coming. Sutherland, at least in these first few episodes, doesn’t seem to have settled on just how monstrous he wants grandpa to be, and Beaufoy’s script gives him enough leeway — everyone but the boy’s mom suspects the kid is behind it all, and so in no real danger — to fall an inch or two short of pure evil.
Executive producers Beaufoy, Boyle and Christian Colson have indicated that future seasons of Trust will chronicle other eras of Getty history, but no amount of time-jumping could provide a happy ending for the historical John Paul Getty III (a famous son, the actor Balthazar Getty, notwithstanding). Whatever its inconsistencies, this debut season is compelling enough to keep us around anyway.
Trust debuts Sunday, March 25 at 10 pm ET/PT on FX.