Danny Boyle’s Trust may be this year’s Fargo
Cowboys are easy to believe. In the second episode of Trust, a series about the notorious kidnapping case of John Paul Getty III, truth literally sits in the back-seat of a Rolls-Royce and addresses us from underneath a white Stetson. A cowboy enforcer, played with beautiful wholesomeness by Brendan Fraser, swigs milk from a bottle, looks right at the camera and talks about 1945, as if it were the most natural thing to do.
Directed by Danny Boyle and written by his long-time collaborator Simon Beaufoy, Trust is a billion-dollar true crime story that deserves a sensational telling, and it’s handy to have a white-hatted guide talk us through this nauseatingly rich world. The year is 1973. We know this because, as Boyle shows us the Hollywood sign, the digits pop up helpfully next to it, as tall as those famous 44ft letters, a flourish of storytelling wizardry to accompany the cash-register sounds of Pink Floyd’s Money. The cowboy calls 1973 a “mousey, in-between girlfriend of a year”, one that is “too old for the swinging sixties, too young to disco”. It is a year, in fact, made remarkable by the story he’s telling (and by the Dark Side Of The Moon, which released just as the story starts).
New episodes of the series are out every Monday on Hotstar, and while Trust will predictably be compared to the masterful The People V. OJ Simpson, I’m willing to go a step further and say it could lay claim to the Fargo-shaped hole in our hearts. This fiction is too tasty for facts to get in the way. Two episodes in, Trust looks up to the job, with Brendan Fraser taking over that marvellous Billy Bob Thornton role in Fargo, the unhinged, sharply-dressed man of deliberation.
Ridley Scott told this story very drily, in the strictly okay film All The Money In The World, just weeks ago, but the greasy excess is where Boyle and Beaufoy dig deepest. Boyle sets up wild characters and worlds and then dices them, going from an exquisite canted shot of sun-dried Rome to mesmerizing, ingenious split-screens, segmenting the screen into quarters and fifths, and, sometimes, little picture-in-picture windows, as if he was Thomas Crown planning a heist. There is coolth, confidence and momentum with—that Boyle trademark—a running start, this show beginning with a frantic bolt through a sunflower field. Trust dazzles. The facts may be the facts, but Boyle gives us the Getty images.
The great Donald Sutherland plays John Paul Getty, the wily patriarch who throws around his wiliness and patriarchy, griping about an increase in newspaper price instead of commenting on his son killing himself. Suicide, he makes clear, is something he “will not have”, sending a trusted enforcer—the cowboy—to alter history and news. It is fantastic to see Sutherland in a role so vulpine, and, perversely, it reminds me of him in Robert Altman’s MASH, where he played the charming “Hawkeye” Pierce. Here that same eye glints, but never yields.
Those around Getty Sr call him Paul, including his girlfriend (and other women of his harem who she refers to as “decoration”). One of his sons is also a Paul, a spineless drug user trying to claw his way back into the family fortune. His grandson also shares his name: Paul III is a slack-jawed boy, frequently bewildered and frequently barefoot. The old man describes Shakespeare as overrated but quotes King Lear, and is disgusted by his pitiful progeny and their inability to match up to him, “the man who begat them”. It is a vicious yet velvety performance, made special by the way Sutherland enunciates weighty, carefully chosen words with a terrible majesty, hurling verbal paperweights at those near him.
“In Italy, kidnapping is seen as a personal matter,” shrugs a local policeman as the cowboy tries to trace Paul Getty III in Rome. The young man has disappeared and a ransom note has materialized on his bed. The facts are peculiar, yet the cowboy stays cool—“I’m slow to wrath,” he explains—even though, like the show, he eschews subtlety for spectacle. He enters Rome with stars-and-stripes on his cravat, then ties the neckerchief outside his hotel window like a flag, advertising his presence to the curious. Fraser is a revelation, skirting a precise line between playing broad and playing dumb, creating a character to love. Boyle allows him the run of the narrative, and cannily cracks open Ennio Morricone-style Western music, not for bullets but when the cowboy deals out the real thing: dollars.
We could bicker about how true this true crime story is—the enforcer existed, but this glorious cowboy persona may be entirely made up—yet how can one complain? It is rare that a tale be both lurid and lovely. The People V. OJ Simpson hit its marks with incredible facts; this one does so using phenomenal fiction. There are fine actors, particularly Hilary Swank as Paul III’s enervated mother, and Silas Carson as Bullimore the butler (think a haughty Jeeves with a less playful eyebrow), and the nuances are telling. The old man likes erotica read out to him before he raises the red lantern with a lady he chooses, while we later learn that Paul III, who loves films, has partied with that most infamous of film-makers, Roman Polanski. When in Rome...
Rome calls the youngest Paul “The Golden Hippie”, befitting a lad who looks like a Renaissance painting of a Grateful Dead fan, a bell-bottomed billionaire disco freak who may have faked his own disappearance. The old man is amused by him, and by this spirit of enterprise missing from so many of his heirs, but when he learns of the kidnapping, he ignores it. He has more exacting matters at hand. The breakfast butter is a bit hard.
Streaming tip of the week
Before Danny Boyle starts the next James Bond film, dive through the British director’s diverse work. Netflix has Trainspotting and Steve Jobs, Hotstar offers 28 Days Later, 28 Weeks Later, The Beach, 127 Hours and Trance, while Amazon Prime holds T2 Trainspotting, a fittingly aged sequel. Be careful not to overdose.
Stream of Stories is a column on what to watch online.
Raja Sen tweets @rajasen