This week, FX will close the door on its latest expensive-looking, true crime drama, The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story. But, the luxe cable network isn’t one to go without a high-profile modern-ish historical deep dive from at least one beloved producer for long. So, mere days after Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk’s take on spree-killer Andrew Cunanan (Darren Criss) wraps this week, FX will give us Oscar-winner Danny Boyle’s Trust, about the famed, baffling Getty kidnapping of the 1970s. While the two projects couldn’t seem more different at the surface — Cunanan was a desperate, down-on-his luck any-man who turned to mass murder, and the Getty oil family is, well, the peerless Getty oil family — there is one very large similarity afoot: the soul-crushing grind of loneliness.
While Andrew carried around the kind of boundless loneliness that makes one desperate for fame, every single Getty in Trust, premiering Sunday, March 25, is crippled by the loneliness of knowing no one you ever encounter will have the kind of wealth and power you were unwittingly born into. That kind of existence makes you paranoid and “soft,” to quote star Harris Dickinson. In the same way ACS tried to make you feel for one of the 20th century’s most infamous killers, Trust attempts to make an argument for the horrors of #RichPeopleProblems. And, the truly sumptuous series eventually crafts a pretty compelling case.
1973-set Trust may have a sprawling cast of characters, but it is built around John Paul Getty III (Harris Dickinson), our eventual kidnapping victim and the teen hippie grandson of John Paul Getty The First (Donald Sutherland), the “richest man in the world” at the time. Considering the fact it’s eventually surmised the Getty trust is worth about $2 billion — and this is 1970s, pre-inflation $2 billion — that assumption seems accurate.
Premiere episode “The House of Getty” introduces us to all of the madness of the ultra-rich clan, and it’s as decadent and decayed as one would expect. Everyone in the family is jockeying for power in a way that would make the Game Of Thrones cast proud. The installment's titular house is more of an estate quite literally fit for a king, which Paul The First certainly styles himself as. The old man even has a “harem,” as Paul III calls it, to prove it, with a coterie of four women at his sexual and emotional beck and call. No wonder the real-life Gettys swear this show is “lies.”
That “harem” points towards one of Trust’s greatest weaknesses, which is how it treats women. It’s difficult to watch Paul use his wealth and status to subject four women to his bedroom, mental, and social indignities. The oil baron demands to know who loves him the most and puts his girlfriends through legitimately terrifying tests to get the answer. He forces them into a creepy game that essentially boils down to sexual duck-duck-goose. In a post-#MeToo world, who wants to watch different ladies bend to the carnal desires of an impossibly powerful man like the Getty patriarch, or realize just how many employees are complicit in Paul’s overwrought sex manipulations? Especially when we’re directly informed of just how few rights these women have once they sign up to become a Getty “girlfriend.”
Unfortunately, women like lead girlfriend Penelope Kittson (Anna Chancellor), the appointed “lady of the house,” aren’t the only ones who are given a raw deal. Elsewhere in the series, the threat of sexual violence always hovers above certain characters, and a brutal rape is only thwarted by a surprise, violent shock.
Yes, such realities may be true to the time, but it’s hard to argue that seeing so much of this misogynistic treatment actually adds to the series in 2018.
The only detour into sexism that feels truly necessary is the story of Gail Getty (Hilary Swank), Paul III’s mother, who is desperate to get her son back after he is kidnapped. You can feel everyone from Paul The First’s security specialist James Fletcher Chace (Brendan Fraser, having the time of his life) to Gail’s own partner, actor Lang Jeffries (John Schwab), write off her concerns over her missing son as the hysterics of a delusional woman. As we all know thanks to the real-life account of Paul III’s mutilating kidnapping, Gail was the only person who was right.
That’s why Trust only gets truly exciting when it ditches the King Lear-ian drama of the Getty manse for Paul III’s infamous abduction, which was also the subject of All The Money In The World. After all, that’s what this series is actually about. The real-life story is so bizarre, wild, and attention-grabbing, there is no need to see women get sexually assaulted or a doctor shoot up an old man’s member with old-timey Viagra. When compared to the rich people drama of England, Paul, with his model’s face, unending teenage alienation, and increasingly horrifying Italian catastrophes, is far more interesting. That’s why third episode “La Dolce Vita,” which puts into context the prior two episodes and suggests the doom ahead, is the best installment of the trio given to critics for review.
“La Dolce Vita” has the true crime tension all the most obsession-worthy series offer, plus, the masterful filmmaking of Danny Boyle. Even better, Harris Dickinson has the rock n’ roll sensibilities and emotional depth needed to bring the ill-fated “Golden Hippie,” as Paul III was known around Rome, to life. John Paul Getty III is every ounce the a Poor Little Rich Boy, and, honestly, I can’t wait to see what happens to him next.
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