In one of the most unlikely comebacks of 2021, Brendan Fraser has returned. The man behind Rick O’Connell from The Mummy franchise (the good one) had remained somewhat in obscurity for the better part of a decade after that series petered out, and his latter efforts with family comedy Furry Vengeance and literary adaptation Inkheart took a serious critical beating and bombed financially. Where exactly has Fraser been ever since? A fantastic GQ article shared some insights on what the former star dealt with personally during a challenging period, as Fraser had chosen to keep many of these details out of the public eye.
This year sees him returning to screens both big and small, pairing him with two high-profile directors. Fraser can currently be seen as a member of the Detroit mob in Steven Soderbergh’s crime thriller No Sudden Move (currently streaming on HBO Max), and later this year he’ll lead Darren Aronofsky’s highly anticipated new drama film The Whale. It’s great to see Fraser return to prominence, but his due return was foreshadowed three years earlier when he delivered one of his best and most underseen performances ever. Fraser’s role in the FX miniseries Trust proved we should’ve been hip-deep in a Fraser-saance by now.
Fraser’s disappearance from the spotlight is surprising considering how wildly popular he was in the late 90s, even before The Mummy franchise put him at the center of a popular adventure franchise. He was a jack-of-all-trades type of leading man who could convincingly star in wacky comedies like Airheads, rom-coms like Blast from the Past, prestige awards dramas like Gods and Monsters, and ensemble teen dramas like School Ties. Even when he wasn’t the central protagonist, Fraser was always topline on the title card. While other 90s breakout stars like Matt Dillon or Jude Law certainly aren’t as popular today as they were during the turn of the century, they haven’t faded into obscurity quite as dramatically.
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Trust hails from filmmaker Danny Boyle, and tells the story of notoriously shrewd billionaire John Paul Getty (Donald Sutherland) and his infamous refusal to pay the ransom for his grandson (Harris Dickinson) when he’s captured by the Italian mafia. If the story sounds familiar, it’s because the 2018 series debuted only months after Ridley Scott’s feature film All the Money in the World adapted the same story. Trust was ignored by many because it simply hit audiences second.
Fraser has a key supporting role as James Fletcher Chace, a former CIA spy who serves as Getty’s chief investigator into the kidnapping. Mark Wahlberg played the role in All the Money in the World, but Fraser’s performance is vastly different and significantly more interesting. If Wahlberg played Chace as a smooth-talking spy, Fraser does it as a bible-thumping Texas lawman whose deep Southern drawl sticks out like a sore thumb when he enters Italy during his search for the lost boy.
Chace is largely regulated to the background in the pilot, but the second episode “Lone Star” is a showcase for the character as Chace attempts to confirm his employer’s suspicions that the ransom scheme is a hoax. Fraser peruses the Italian marketplace for the better part of 60 minutes, proceeding at an ambulatory pace as he questions locals and chugs gallons of whole milk.
The pilot episode is a nail-biting thriller that diverges into a lurid evisceration of Getty’s greed, and “Lone Star” is an indulgence of a different type. Fraser has time to explain to the audience the reality of the mission, as the elder Getty doesn’t really care either way what his grandson’s fate is. Watching Chace drop cash in front of anyone who talks informs us how vast Getty’s resources are, yet how little he cares about actual clues. Fraser delivers a series of one-liners after another, reflecting that not even the world’s wealthiest family can be saved from dysfunction.
What makes the performance so unique is that Chace breaks the fourth wall in order to deliver these expository lines. There’s thematic information to learn about the diminished faith in institutions during the mid-70s, and it’s way more interesting when it comes from Fraser’s wacky character. Chace inserts his own comedic commentary as he addresses the audience, giving off the vibe of a hapless bystander who has grown accustomed to his boss’s cruelty. The bored indifference within Fraser’s lines suggest that shocking expenses and disregard for human life are all in a day’s work under Getty’s employment.
Fraser’s humor is essential to what is generally a very dark show. John Paul Getty III is a victim of horrific violence as he’s passed between conspirators and confined to various prisons, and his torture becomes even more difficult to watch due to the added perspective of his mother Gail (Hillary Swank). Adding an overtly comic character was a risk, but Fraser pulls it off by giving the perspective of someone who didn’t come from wealth. He also adds comfort and security when needed; during the climactic exchange in the show’s penultimate episode “White Car In A Snowstorm,” he shares a few quieter moments with Gail as he reveals details about his own family.
It’s hard to not think about Fraser’s own personal hardships when witnessing Chace’s development. Chace is often the warmest character on the show, but he keeps any personal details closely guarded other than the key scene with Gail. Seeing this empathetic character maintain his professionalism is rewarded by the show’s finale, in which Chace gets the chance to reunite with his son. As the Getty family’s dynamic grows even more fractured in the aftermath of the kidnapping, Chace’s future appears to be headed in a much brighter direction.
He’s also no buffoon, and while Chace initially appears to be clueless, he’s able to use his outward personna to gain critical information about the conspiracy. In the fourth episode “That’s All Folks,” Chace is tasked with negotiating a truce with the Italian gangsters. He gets the kidnappers to let their guard down by suggesting that he’s simply a mindless ambassador with no will of his own. By being deceptively oblivious, Chace gains more negotiating power and is able to ascertain the location of Getty III. Gail’s unwavering dedication to finding her son gives Trust its heart, but Chace is the one that actually cracks the case.
From George of the Jungle to The Mummy: Tomb of The Dragon Emperor, Fraser was one of the most in-demand leading men in Hollywood. Fraser may never reach those heights of stardom again, especially in an era when established franchises sell more tickets than famous names. By changing with the times and suiting his own unique qualities, Fraser has successfully transitioned into a character actor. As we approach peak Fraser-sance, Trust is worth remembering as one of his best and most entertaining recent performances.
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Liam Gaughan is a film and TV writer at Collider. He has been writing film reviews and news coverage for eight years with bylines at Dallas Observer, About.com, Taste of Cinema, Dallas Morning News, Schmoes Know, Rebel Scum, and Central Track. He aims to get his spec scripts produced and currently writes short films and stage plays. He lives in McKinney, TX.