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Saturday, Aug 17, 2019

Trust review: Danny Boyle’s new show is like a Slumdog Millionaire apology

Trust review: After Ridley Scott’s controversial All the Money in the World, it is now Danny Boyle’s turn to explore the shady history of one of America’s most unfortunate families: The Gettys.

tv Updated: May 28, 2018 09:37 IST
Rohan Naahar
Rohan Naahar
Hindustan Times
Harris Dickinson plays the tragic hero of Trust, J Paul Getty III.
Harris Dickinson plays the tragic hero of Trust, J Paul Getty III.

Cast - Donald Sutherland, Hilary Swank, Brendan Fraser, Harris Dickinson
Rating - 2.5/5

There have been many instances of weirdly similar movies being released in the same year. The most popular examples, of course, are Armageddon and Deep Impact in 1998, The Illusionist and The Prestige in 2006, and Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down in 2013. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find more obscure examples such as No Strings Attached and Friends With Benefits in 2011, Antz and A Bug’s Life in 1998 and the great battle of the Snow Whites in 2012: Mirror Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman.

The idea behind each of these movies is too specific for the duplication to be a fluke. And in each case, the teams behind the films were totally aware of the other project. Interestingly, there has always been one clear winner on every occasion - either at the box office, or based on fan reception.

This strange phenomenon - the Halley’s Comet of Hollywood that it is - happened again most recently late last year, when Ridley Scott released All the Money in the World, about one of the most unfortunate families in American history: The Gettys. The movie became the stuff of legend after it underwent those famous reshoots when Scott made the unprecedented decision to remove Kevin Spacey from the film, less than a month away from release.

J Paul Getty’s life was a Greek tragedy.
J Paul Getty’s life was a Greek tragedy.

From the moment Scott announced his ambitious plan - he would bring in Christopher Plummer to redo all of Spacey’s scenes in a little more than a week, adding $10 million to the budget - it was always clear that they would be sticking to the original release date. Which begs the question: Why? Why would they pull such a risky move, with so much on the line, when they could simply push the film by a couple of months? Well, now we know. In addition to capitalising on the incredible buzz around his plan - buzz that eventually did nothing for the film at the box office, although it did win Plummer an Oscar nomination - Scott had another reason to scramble. While he was rushing to finish All the Money in the World, director Danny Boyle was putting the finishing touches on his own version of the Getty saga, a prestige television series called Trust, scheduled to premiere in early 2018.

What sets Trust and All the Money in the World apart from the other examples I mentioned above - besides, of course, that one is a TV show - is that it’s the only time two films (in this case a film and a TV show) have tackled a real story this close to each other. Both tell what is essentially the same story, the beginning of the Gettys’ many misfortunes: the 1973 kidnapping of J Paul Getty III, grandson of the oil tycoon J Paul Getty, who was at the time the richest man in (the history of) the world.

Donald Sutherland plays Getty Sr with an almost moustache-twirling evilness.
Donald Sutherland plays Getty Sr with an almost moustache-twirling evilness.

And while Scott gave All the Money in the World a competitive edge by ensuring that it released first, the comparisons can never really end in a situation such as this. Luckily for us, there is so much here to dissect. Unfortunately though, neither Scott nor Boyle - both legendary directors in their own right – could elevate this already intriguing piece of history to more than what it is.

What made the kidnapping of J Paul Getty III extraordinary was the unwelcome attention it brought to his grandfather, a man so miserly that he had installed a pay phone in his England mansion. When the kidnappers demanded a $17 million ransom for his grandson, his famous answer was, “No.”

Charlie Plummer played Paul in All the Money in the World.
Charlie Plummer played Paul in All the Money in the World.

In Trust, a show that makes several plot deviations from All the Money in the World, Getty (played by Donald Sutherland this time around) offers the kidnappers $600 plus expenses for his grandson. But most controversially, Trust strongly implies that the younger Getty staged his own kidnapping - at least initially. This is a bold suggestion to make, especially when dealing with a historical fact. Luckily for Boyle’s longtime writing collaborator Simon Beaufoy - the duo previously worked together on Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours - playing it fast and loose with history is the key.

Trust, despite being so radically different from All the Money in the World - in tone, in style, even in the performances of the actors - is almost exactly the same quality wise. Both versions of the Getty story - even though Scott’s film was more like a thriller while Boyle is clearly more concerned with family drama - are largely forgettable as they spend too much time focussing on the unimportant aspects of the kidnapping. With both the film and show crammed in my head one after the other, the overwhelming takeaway is this: too much time was spent in a dank cell in the Italian countryside, and too much effort was put into humanising characters that have very little redeeming qualities.

Although there are positives to be gleaned from each version - the acting in the film was far superior, while Boyle’s trademark hyperkinetic direction serves the more pulpy aspects of the show better.

Well, at least we got to see Brendan Fraser back in action. This is probably Trust’s biggest contribution to popular culture.
Well, at least we got to see Brendan Fraser back in action. This is probably Trust’s biggest contribution to popular culture.

But like the fundamental differences in the motivations of the these characters in the show, the performances of Sutherland as Getty, Hilary Swank as Paul’s penniless mother and Brendan Fraser as Getty’s fixer, are nothing like their cinematic counterparts’ - Plummer, Michelle Williams and Mark Wahlberg. They seem to know that they’re in a piece of entertainment. Sutherland is almost moustache-twirlingly cunning, and Fraser speaks in an exaggerated Texan drawl as he breaks the fourth wall while Scott’s actors at least attempted to explore the emptiness of what it meant to be a Getty.

But the nature of reality is skewed when a piece of history is transformed into a fantastic fable, which is what Trust essentially is.

Sadly, good acting alone can’t sustain a film, in the same way that superficial style cannot save a show. Trust occupies a different world from All the Money in the World - ironically more cinematic than the somewhat relatable world of the film.

It’s unlikely that many of you are clamouring for the definitive telling of the Getty saga - an apathy that makes this entire contest all the stranger - but now you have two versions to be underwhelmed by.

Follow @htshowbiz for more
The author tweets @RohanNaahar

First Published: May 28, 2018 09:27 IST

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