For those who skipped Ridley Scott’s cinematic test to see if all publicity really is good publicity, get ready to spend 10-plus hours with a family of mean, money-grubbing rich folks instead of a mere two. “Trust” swaps in Donald Sutherland for Kevin Spacey and Christopher Plummer, two-time Oscar winner Hillary Swank for should-be two-time Oscar winner (and actual four-time nominee) Michelle Williams, and the star of “The Mummy” (Brendan Fraser) for the star of “Daddy’s Home 2” (Marky Mark Wahlberg) and you know what? Everyone considered, it’s a pretty even trade.
But what “All the Money in the World” cultivated through restricted access and implicit understanding, “Trust” loses by overindulging explicit explanations. FX’s drama series lacks the mysterious allure surrounding a man with the wealth of a god. As each of the first three episodes aims to better understand a different character, the story remains stagnant after the first hour and only one of the three men earns their solo spotlight. (Swank plays a pretty small part of these episodes, and she doesn’t even appear in the extended first entry.) Even though the ornate look makes you want to buy in, there are few reasons to trust this version of the Getty saga will bequeath anything new.
From the surreal opening shot, there’s no doubt this is Danny Boyle’s show. Starting on the Hollywood sign — with the time marker “1973” tacked onto the eastern end of the hill — the camera moves down through the pool and into a massive party on a private estate. People dance and sing to Pink Floyd’s “Money,” a woman screams for George, and as the lens squeezes under a closed garage door, we watch George Getty II purposefully impale himself with a two-pronged BBQ fork.
It’s a stylistic introduction and about as wild as “Trust” gets. Boyle’s presence is noted, but — working with “Slumdog Millionaire” and “127 Hours” writer Simon Beaufoy — he’s not attempting anything particularly bold, so much as he’s ready to deliver a handsome drama with just enough edge to make you think, “Oh yeah, a film director helmed this.” From there, the 62-minute premiere (sans commercials) focuses on Jean Paul Getty’s search for an heir to his multi-billion dollar oil empire. George was meant to take over for the aging business titan, and the rest of Getty’s “feckless progeny,” as he calls them, aren’t up for the task.
Then briefly, there’s a shining light. Oblivious or uncaring about George’s funeral (not unlike his grandfather), a 15-year-old John Paul Getty III (Harris Dickinson) strides into the black-tie affair wearing matching denim and dropping his luggage at the buffet counter. Suspicious but not immediately turned off, the eldest Getty soon becomes interested in Paul’s surprising knowledge of ancient artifacts and interest in the empire’s “self-sustaining” income. Could he be the replacement Getty is looking for?
“It’s possible,” Getty thinks, but anyone who knows the true story realizes what’s next, and in Episode 2, “Lone Star,” the audience spends quality time with the series’ standout character (and performer), Fletcher Chase (Brendan Fraser). Without giving anything away to the uninformed, Chase is here because the Getty grandfather and grandson have been separated. Wearing a cowboy hat and sipping warm milk from a bottle, Fletcher begins and ends his hour with a direct-to-camera address (another piece of Boyle flair, though this one was suggested by Fraser).
And yet that’s not even his most distinguishing moment. Fletcher is a fish out of water in his western duds surrounded by distinguished old fuddy-duddies, but he’s so comfortable in his skin and confident in his abilities, he’s the life of the party instead of the odd man out. Fraser plays him with a charm absent from the rest of the characters; he can be earnestly laughing over a stranger’s game of Indian Poker seconds before a life-or-death meeting he’s meant to facilitate, but he’s not slacking on the job or overly assured. He’s ready, and oddly enough, it feels like Fraser has been ready and waiting to play this part. The actor hits each telling shift in Fletcher’s casual nature just right.
The rest of the cast doesn’t necessarily disappoint, but they’ve yet to elevate the material the way Fraser does. Sutherland’s Getty is the coldly selfish moneyman you’ve come to know in other works, and Dickinson’s Paul is a manic liar whose youthful pull doesn’t translate beyond the character. Both are solid, but they don’t outshine the production around them, nor can they overcome the familiarity of their characters.
“Trust” shouldn’t be compared to “All the Money in the World” considering the varying backgrounds and intentions of their creators, but the timing makes noting such parallels and disparities unavoidable. Scott told a story of obsession; a wealthy man who knew how to make money by hoarding it and became consumed by that very practice. That Getty felt foreign and fascinating in his unfeeling exterior: Did he do what he did to protect his family or his fortune?
The film argued for the latter and then condemned him for it — backhanding modern business in the process — while the series argues it’s both and loses a bit of its edge in the process. Whereas Plummer’s Getty playfully issued unannounced tests to gauge his peers, Sutherland’s makes it a blunt habit. This cranky old man is less interesting, which makes “Trust” a tougher sell as a long-term investment.
“Trust” Season 1 premieres Sunday, March 25 at 10 p.m. ET on FX.