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Getty Kidnapping TV Drama Bests Movie

Donald Sutherland, Hilary Swank star in sensational FX series

Donald Sutherland as J. Paul Getty, Sr.

Kurt Iswarienko/FX

Donald Sutherland presides over a vast fortune and a vastly troubled family as the ruthless J. Paul Getty in the 10-episode miniseries "Trust."

Where to Watch: Sundays on FX

Premiere: March 25, 10 p.m. ET

Stars: Brendan Fraser, Donald Sutherland, Hilary Swank

Christopher Plummer, 88, was terrific as cold-hearted oil billionaire J. Paul Getty in Ridley Scott’s December movie All the Money in the World. But now director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire), 61, and star Donald Sutherland, 82, top them with a 10-episode series, Trust. It’s about the same case, the story of Getty's teen grandson’s violent 1973 kidnapping by Roman mafiosi, but with an even livelier style than the movie's, and more riveting, horrifying detail about a clan, among the world’s wealthiest, more tormented than Dynasty’s Carringtons and Empire’s Lyons put together.

It’s a family feud so lurid Hollywood could scarcely make it up — even though angry relatives are making headlines threatening to sue both dramas. The nephew of J. Paul Getty’s kidnapper accused the Plummer film of making his uncle’s mafia gang look dumb — “They were great criminals!” said their lawyer — and now the victim’s sister calls the Sutherland series “a wildly sensationalized false portrayal” of the Gettys.

It’s certainly sensational. Trust, billed as “inspired by” reality, is better than the film because it gives a deeper sense of family dynamics in a mansion where everyone spies on everyone, angling for cash, placating the implacable patriarch. In the film, Plummer’s plutocrat has little reason for refusing to pay the $17 million ransom demanded for his grandson, which caused the kid’s Mafia captors to mail his ear to the elder Gettys. Like Shakespeare’s Iago, Plummer's Getty is a motiveless malignity — just a bad guy.

Harris Dickinson as J. Paul Getty III, Donald Sutherland as J. Paul Getty, Sr.

Kurt Iswarienko/FX

J. Paul Getty III (Harris Dickinson) and his grandfather (Donald Sutherland) scheme, lie and deceive in "Trust," the new miniseries from Danny Boyle.

Sutherland, however, gets to create a more ambiguous character, and better conveys why his offspring so enraged him. Granted, he’s beyond awful. He humiliates or manipulates everyone: his many mistresses, his kids, even the black swans in his driveway, which his car sometimes runs over. But you see his point about the youngsters. The Gettys came from Scotland and Ireland with nothing, and he became arguably the richest human in history, smart and arty, financing two of the world's great museums and many philanthropic causes. The kids shun business for wild living, several succumbing to addiction. He wants a dynasty, and they thwart him.

He thinks he’s found a soul mate in his teen grandson (Independent Spirit Award nominee Harris Dickinson), who admires his ancient Greek sculpture depicting a cultured Greek battling his cousin, a rapacious, half-human centaur — a metaphor for Getty’s divided heart, for a family at war, and also for the effect of massive wealth on the human soul. The kid charms him by calling the prenuptial agreements the mistresses must sign “a financial condom.” So the patriarch offers to turn Getty Oil over to the teen. Until Getty III runs off to Rome to party and pay off his drug debt by conning Grandpa.

That’s just the start of a saga that involves a marvelous cast of globe-spanning, double-crossing characters who often have good intentions, if many weaknesses. Oscar winner Hilary Swank, 43, is a bit nicer as the luckless teen’s mom (played by Michelle Williams in the film), and Brendan Fraser, 49, plays the Gettys’ Stetson-wearing security chief, who sometimes talks straight to the camera a la House of Cards, explaining what’s going on like a Greek chorus.

There are plans for two more seasons of Trust, taking the epic from the 1920s Saudi oil fields to its astounding endgame. Maybe Balthazar Getty, the kidnap victim’s child, who overcame his own addiction, dated Sienna Miller and has been an actor since his teens, could play himself. Perhaps he thrived because he was raised without access to the family fortune. What this scary family saga needs is a happy ending.

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