When films reach for currency while discussing society and technology’s role in it, it is very easy for them to become passé or seem outdated from the second they go into production – i.e. last year’s horrific Chatroom – but Trust, directed by David Schwimmer in a sharp contrast to his mediocre comedy Run Fatboy Run, manages to grab at enough of the much sought after human element and features a trio of blistering performances. The fact that Trust has a more general and perceptive statement to make about today – of not only the Internet, but smart phones, and how our entire communication dynamic has changed as a result – makes it feel more deep and probing than similar works.
Trust deals with the difficult premise of a 14-year old girl, Annie (Liana Liberato), falling victim to an online sexual predator, while her parents, Will (Clive Owen) and Lynn (Catherine Keener) attempt to pick up the pieces. Schwimmer’s simple but deft directorial choice – to display text and Internet communications as text displays over the screen rather than constantly relying on shots of computer screens – is a smart one, while the film itself seems socially switched on and full of both smart psychology and layered characters.
It’s certainly not a pleasant date movie, but an interesting and important film; raw, edgy, uncomfortable, and very well acted, especially by Liberato as the victim around which the drama revolves. Painstakingly, Schwimmer goes through the motions of the inevitable loss of innocence; we know what is going to happen and he takes his time getting us there. The depiction of the incident is hardly explicit enough to seem sexualised, but through some unsettling glimpses and dream sequences, there’s definitely enough here to make you squirm.
Better than most similar films, Trust deals exceptionally well with the post-victim trauma of such an incident, though not how you might expect; not only does Schwimmer delve into the clinical detail of the rape kit procedure, but Annie, believing her encounter to be one rooted in love, wants to see her attacker again. Somewhere between a typically loved-up teen and a battered wife, it is a character and a performance that is extremely heartbreaking, and Liberato embodies it perfectly.
Later the film has a few uneasy pretensions to become less a drama and more a thriller, as the police become involved in the chase and attempt to trace the perpetrator’s steps, which is certainly less interesting than the strict dramatic scenes and serves up a few unsavoury contrivances. Also, some of Will’s manic daydream sequences reek of heavy-handed over-direction, but it still gets the point across, of how his interpretation of events, as a cautious, angry father, may differ from what really took place.
Easily forgiveable are these moments of outburst, though, for the film takes a bravely grey look at the situation; while recognising the event for the horrific endeavour that it is, Schwimmer also gets to have his say on the tabloid-inspired social paranoia regarding sexual predators and also how parents’ rose-tinted view of their children might differ from the reality. Sensitively directed, these subtle moments of insight never tip the balance of impropriety however, and he flat-out refuses to let go of the humanity of the situation even if it very occasionally gives way to clumsiness; a confession scene between Will and a work colleague hammers home how we view the differences between rape and statutory rape with a crass efficiency.
For all of its smart characterisation, everything ultimately rests on the demanding central role, played with devastating conviction by Liberato, to an effect both disarming and difficult to watch. The adults aren’t far behind, albeit in far less challenging roles; Owen is a stellar lead, encompassing a fatherly rage that just about anyone could sympathise with, while Kenner is also very good as the opposite pole of influence. At crunch time, Trust packs a riveting visceral and emotional punch even if the ending is somewhat signposted. But in its restraint at the crucial moment, it finds a meditative power where other films would be keen to overreach.
Trust centers around a horrible event, but it’s the uncomfortable shades of grey – as well as the outstanding performances – which make it smart, original and utterly compelling.
Trust is released in the U.K. today.