Early on in the premiere of FX’s new series, “Trust,” John Paul Getty (Donald Sutherland) speeds away from his manor, casually running over a stray black swan. The swan’s innards explode out. We watch three other cars further pulverize the dead animal, gizzards pounded into the road. In many ways, this epitomizes Simon Beaufoy and Danny Boyle’s “Trust.” It makes a loud, grotesque point and makes sure to hammer it home three or four times within the scene. The show makes sure the audience gets every point, even if the takeaway is hardly valuable.
We open on flower child John Paul Getty III (Harris Dickinson) frolicking around an open Italian field. Cut to George Getty, drugged out at a swanky pool party, who fatally stabs himself with a grill fork. The family gathers at John Paul Getty’s (Sutherland) estate to mourn George’s death, but more to figure out who will be the heir to Getty Oil. Getty holds contempt for all his children, particularly John Getty, Jr. (Michael Esper), who struggled with drug addiction. Once Paul saunters in, he inspires concern and dormant paternal feelings from Getty. Paul’s ability to recognize good art and show interest puts him in a good place to learn the family business and take over. However, he harbors debts from his partying days in Italy.
For a show obsessed with opulence, it tends to revel in the grotesque. One of the major storylines of the pilot involves Getty planning a party for the welcome of Theresa, the new addition to the manor. The punchline of this storyline is yet another aggravating test of loyalty for Getty’s gaggle of wives. The show shows active disinterest in learning more about anyone that isn’t a Getty. It becomes borderline hilarious how his four girlfriends seem to only exist around swimming pools cattily talking among each other. A miniseries is supposed to allow further exploration of a finite story. However, Beaufoy and Boyle use this extra time to further poke fun at the world of the rich.
In a cast of Oscar winners and movie stars with decades of experience, “Beach Rats” star Harris Dickinson emerges as best in show. As John Paul Getty III, he embodies the bohemian rebel soul of the character, while maintaining an earnest interest that catches the eye of his grandfather. His flamboyant entrance to his Uncle’s funeral plays quite on the nose. However, as Paul explores his Grandfather’s manor and company, we glimpse a possibly more earnest soul underneath the pomp and clout. The camera lingers on him throughout as he epitomizes the glamorous, cultured and hedonistic it guy of the time.
Donald Sutherland steps into the role of John Paul Getty, which was the subject of much controversy in Ridley Scott’s “All the Money in the World.” Kevin Spacey was cut out of the project once charges of sexual molestation of minors came to light. Christopher Plummer was recast in the role, filmed it in 8 days and was nominated for an Oscar for it. Sutherland doesn’t quite disappear into the role as much as Plummer did. However, that’s also because the show looks at other, stranger parts of Getty’s life. Sutherland’s Getty is focused on playing mind games with his girlfriends and worrying about impotence. Plummer exudes confidence and control in a way that Sutherland hasn’t quite grasped.
The show promises to delve more into the perspectives of the other key players in Paul’s kidnapping. Brendan Fraser’s James Fletcher Chase, the Getty family private investigator and fixer, and Hilary Swank’s Gail Getty, Paul’s harried mother, will get more play further on in the series. However, the kidnapping at the center of the story isn’t even present at the beginning. There are plenty of angles to look through in this sprawling story. However, this particular show doesn’t seem to highlight the most interesting elements. It’s a whole lot of style and superlatives slapped together to create TV that’s flash, but unsatisfying. Hopefully the natural intrigue of the material can make future episodes more compelling.