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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

A music video veteran takes over for Danny Boyle on this week's tense, kidnapper-centric Trust

Illustration for article titled A music video veteran takes over for Danny Boyle on this week's tense, kidnapper-centric Trust
Photo: Philippe Antontello (FX)
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Dawn Shadforth, the director of the fourth episode of Trust and the first director on the show not named Danny Boyle, is not a household name—not even necessarily in households that know an inordinate amount about TV directors. Aficionados of British music videos might know her as a twenty-year veteran of the form, although I confess my longtime fandom of Oasis, Blur, Pulp, Los Campesinos!, and Slow Club did not make me any more familiar with her work (she did do a video for the later-period Oasis tune “The Importance Of Being Idle,” which I only just saw after looking her up, as well as a recent video for some act called The Moonlandingz, whose track in question features Rebecca Taylor of Slow Club). So many directors go into TV or features from music videos that it feels unusual to encounter one whose work has been nearly exclusive to the shorter form for a full career. It’s worth noting, too, how many male directors have parlayed a far less storied career making music videos (I think the kids and the people pretending to be kids now call them “visuals”?) into feature films far faster than it took for Shadforth to do a couple of Trust episodes.

“That’s All Folks,” the first of her two episodes (she did next week’s installment too), focuses primarily on Paul Getty’s kidnappers: Primo, first seen in the previous episode; the uncle and associates Primo brings into his scheme semi-haphazardly; and the henchmen who help Primo look after Paul. One of the simplest and most interesting scenes in the series so far involves the strange practice of Primo and his cohorts trying to figure out the right ransom for a captive two-thirds of them only just found out they have in their possession. Shadforth captures all three participants with a deft use of deep focus, showing both Primo and the reactions of the skeptical Leonardo (Francesco Colella) in the same frame.

Shadforth, with some wide and/or canted angles, captures the eerie beauty of the countryside where Paul Getty is kept, especially in a scene where his captors reluctantly and semi-bumblingly agree to go bare-hand fishing with the kid. The moment where Paul kills a fish with the butt of a gun, genuinely not realizing at first that he’s just grabbed one of the kidnappers’ weapons yet also showing the smallest hesitation over whether he should do anything about this (before losing his extremely brief chance and surrendering), is one of the best little acting moments Harris Dickinson has shown so far.

The episode doesn’t stay on the wrong side of the law. It checks in with Paul’s mother Gail, the eldest Getty, and his dysfunctional household of lovers and/or employees. Though there’s a sense that any brief interludes with Donald Sutherland are part of this show’s marquee value, just as the Christopher Plummer bits of All The Money In The World became its claim to fame, this week the Sutherland scenes, and those related to them, almost don’t matter, at least not what’s most interesting about this particular episode. It’s hard not to wonder if it would have been more effective not to venture into the Getty estate at all, or at least not give Sutherland any lines for his initial cold shoulder or his eventual realization that the kidnapping is real (or at least real enough to put his grandson in danger).

Swank’s scenes are more effective, especially her re-introduction fielding the kidnappers’ initial call: “Everyone says they have him,” she says with a bitter, weary evenness. “You have to prove it.” But her moment opposite Fletcher Chace (Brendan Fraser) elides enough—about whether Fletcher is meeting with Gail because he’s supposed to keep her in the loop or because she wants to, about how much Gail knows about the non-ransom ransom that Getty has agreed to pay, and about what she’s been doing since she first realized Getty wouldn’t be helping her—to make it feel downright cursory, something that feels designed to provide some narrative throughline even though it raises as many questions as it answers. Including only Swank’s scenes that feature the actual kidnappers would have tightened the episode’s focus (and running time) while still keeping all of her best scenes from the episode.

This is all to say that while the more famous actors are quite good in this series, and Swank in particular is strong in this episode, Trust has proven itself just as compelling, if not more so, when it’s disciplined enough to trust its style. That might seem contradictory for a show where a lot of the stylistic touches do, indeed, take their cues from music videos or Danny Boyle movies (themselves pretty compatible with music videos), and as such are not all that restrained in their form. But it takes a different kind of restraint to trust the filmmaking (or showmaking, if you will) over brief appearances from Donald Sutherland or Brendan Fraser. Shadforth wrings a lot of tension from the scenes between Paul, Primo, and Primo’s less ruthless flunkies, even when the characters don’t seem to be at odds. These scenes bring new angles and wrinkles into a situation that is never quite as clear as it looks at the end of any given episode; the scenes with Getty being pragmatic to the point of cold-blooded don’t. Shadforth seems more than ready to keep the series running in different, fascinating directions, rather than retreading old ground.



Stray observations:

  • This week in All The Money: Yeah, this material is covered in about 5 minutes of All The Money In The World screentime.
  • Something that movie didn’t get much into: the notion that Getty would float a $600 “plus expenses” non-ransom, which would both clear the kidnappers of extortion and clear him from having paid a ransom (which... what?), and which requires the kidnappers to think of this exactly the way he has, and also presumably be OK with charging him with a total sum that, while it might well exceed $600, would also be well short of the millions they want. It’s sort of believable in the sense that this does sound like the kind of poppycock a rich old man who thinks everyone ought to (or aspires to) think the way he does would land on, and maybe even in that no one is going to say “no, that’s stupid” to Getty, but it’s also pretty fucking daft, isn’t it?
  • Though Boyle is no longer behind the camera, the incompetent phonecalls made finally demanding ransom for the Getty boy are like a more intense version of an amusing sequence from his misbegotten but kinda beloved-by-me kidnapping farce A Life Less Ordinary, recently profiled in these very pages in a list of “fun” movie kidnappings. It’s underrated! Kind of!
  • Getty pronounces “negotiation” as “nego-si-ation” because he is very fancy.
  • The aforementioned Oasis video is one of their more conceptually ambitious “visuals.” The aforementioned Moonlandingz video is less impressive but not without its charms.

Contributor, The A.V. Club. I also write fiction, edit textbooks, and help run SportsAlcohol.com, a pop culture blog and podcast. Star Wars prequels forever!