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'Trust' Brings the Broken Getty Family to FX
March 25, 2018  | By David Hinckley

Trust, the name of a new FX show, is in the running for least helpful show title ever.

Launching Sunday at 10 p.m. ET, Trust focuses on the dysfunctional family of J. Paul Getty (Donald Sutherland), the oil billionaire. From there it splits off in a dozen directions, some more directly related to the Getty family than others.

The nominal central thread revolves around the 1973 kidnapping of J. Paul Getty III (Harris Dickinson, top), then a teenager. The case made lurid headlines because, among other things, the senior J. Paul Getty refused to pay a ransom for the kid’s return.

The kidnappers responded by cutting off one of his ears and mailing it to the family, after which Getty paid a much smaller sum than originally demanded. Getty III was then released, and went on to lead a rather unhappy life before dying in 2011 at the age of 54.

Dickinson plays the young Getty as a rich, spoiled teenager of his generation. He’s not entirely unlikeable, though, which sets him apart from almost all the rest of the Getty family.

J. Paul Getty, in Sutherland’s striking portrayal, is a brilliant businessman who understands and uses the leverage oil provides him in the economic, political, and social worlds.

He is also an arrogant, nasty bully who keeps a stable of mistresses and regards the world as his hired help. One of his personal manservants brushes his teeth for him.  

Meanwhile, he complains bitterly that his sons did not provide him the kind of family dynasty attained by the Rockefellers or the Kennedys, with no acknowledgement that the lessons of Getty’s own life and behavior could have contributed to a lost and unhappy subsequent generation.

When the son he had deemed his corporate heir stabs himself to death with a barbecue fork, Getty refuses to acknowledge that a Getty could commit suicide and speaks at his funeral of the “accident” even though everyone knows it’s a lie.

While the greater story of Trust spreads far beyond the kidnapping, that incident does focus the early episodes on Getty III’s parents, J. Paul Getty II (Michael Esper) and his ex-wife Gail (Hilary Swank).

Gail, who long ago divorced Getty II for reasons we have no trouble imagining, comes across as one of the few sympathetic characters, perhaps because she did bail out of Getty world.

She alone seems genuinely fearful for what could happen to her son at the hands of the kidnappers. In contrast, the boy’s father won’t come to the phone.

The fact the whole family is screwed up doesn’t escape anyone’s notice. At one time or another, almost every Getty remarks on it.  

“When you have everything you could ever dream of, what do you value?” Getty II asks a woman he’s trying to pick up at a bar. “Nothing.”

His point is underscored with even less subtlety by James Fletcher Chace (Brendan Fraser, right), a private investigator hired by the Gettys to see if he can find the kidnapped boy and liberate him without a ransom.

Fraser, who speaks a lot like Eugene from The Walking Dead, doesn’t succeed in his mission. The mission does, however, give him a chance to deliver several monologues directly to the viewer, breaking the fourth wall to let us know that the rich have problems just like the poor, only they’re different problems.

Those monologues create a strange change of pace in Trust, though they are no stranger than several other scenes that seem to drop in out of the blue.

Those include a couple of particularly graphic murders and an extended scene in which the police wade in with firehoses and clubs to break up an anti-war demonstration.

Conversely, when the senior Getty has one of his minions read erotic fiction aloud while one of his mistresses acts it out, it’s mostly just creepy.

The title Trust presumably references where Getty stashes his billions, played off against the idea that in the Getty family, trusting anyone would be a strategic error.

As a description of the show, it feels vague. But there also may be no single word, or catchy phrase, to convey the notion that if a family tree is rotting from the inside, money alone cannot make it healthy.

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