Trust *** ½
Directed by: David Schwimmer
Written By: Andy Bellin and Robert Festinger.
Starring: Clive Owen (Will Cameron), Catherine Keener (Lynn Cameron), Liana Liberato (Annie Cameron), Viola Davis (Gail), Noah Emmerich (Will’s Collegue), Chris Henry Coffey (“Charlie”).
Trust opens on a seemingly perfect family living in suburban Chicago – even the three children get along with each other, and they all love their parents as well. The middle child, a daughter named Annie who is 14 (Liana Liberato in a stunning debut performance) is not very popular at school – at least not with the boys, because even though she is pretty, she is also a tomboy more comfortable playing volleyball than flirting. But she meets a boy online, who seems to get her. Even though he is a few years old – 16 – she doesn’t think that matters much, and neither do her parents. It’s nice that she has a friend online, and since he lives all the way in California, what harm can he really do? This is Charlie, who works his way in, and gains her trust, before making his confession. He’s not really a junior in high school – he’s a sophomore in college, and is 20. Annie is upset at this new information, but by this point, he has already sucked her in. She is more upset when he later confesses that he is really a grad student and 25. But age is just a number isn’t it? What does it matter when you’ve found your soul mate? Annie even agrees to meet up with Charlie in real life, because he’ll be coming to Chicago soon – and is even smart enough to meet him at a public place – the mall. When Charlie shows up, he is even older than he said – at least somewhere in his 30s, and although Annie is initially reluctant to talk to him, he eases her mind, and manipulates her – telling her that he really does love her, and that he thought she was “mature enough to handle this”. It isn’t long before he has her back in his motel room.
It’s in these early scenes, which essentially makes up the first half of the movie, when Trust is at its best. It depicts how the online predator slowly reels in his prey, starting off nice and sweet, and then gradually increasing the pressure. How the girl is first falls in love with him enough to allow herself to do things she wouldn’t ordinarily do. How the parents (Clive Owen and Catherine Keener) are completely clueless as to what is really going on, because their teenager has become a master at deceiving them. And finally, when they do meet up, how the predator (brilliantly played by Chris Henry Coffey) works to break down those last few barriers, and to get what he wants from her. It is wonderfully directed by Schwimmer, and the performances are brilliant to boot.
The second half of the film isn’t quite as good. Annie’s friend reports what she knows to the school, and the police and FBI are brought into investigate, and her parents find out the truth. Annie steadfastly refuses to believe that Charlie raped her, insisting that she is in love with him, and he loves her as well, and the only reason why he is no longer contacting her is because he knows everyone is listening in. Even her therapy sessions with the great Viola Davis cannot convince her otherwise. Meanwhile, Clive Owen starts driving himself insane with images in his mind of what happened to his little girl, and becomes hell-bent on catching and punishing the predator himself. He is also angry at Annie for being so naïve, something that only gets worse when he gets a copy of the transcripts of their instant messaging chats. These scenes, while well handled by the cast and Schwimmer, are more standard, more predictable and a little less effective. But Schwimmer is smart enough to end the film without any real closure – life goes on, and everyone is going to have to find a way to move on as well.
I was impressed with the direction by Scwimmer, who never seems to force anything too hard – instead he stands back and lets the performances take over, which in this situation was the right call. I also admired how he brought the media into the movie, and how we are all sexualizing our children at a younger and younger age. Owen works in advertising, and his latest campaign was aimed at the “tween” market, and essentially they are ads showing scantily clad teenagers, in suggestive positions. Schwimmer is smart enough not to comment on these ads directly – which would have put the movie in danger of becoming too preachy, too movie of the week, but instead just allows the audience to soak in the ads and draw their own connections.
Trust is a difficult film because of its subject matter. I know that there are probably not many people clamoring to see a film about rape and its consequences. But because it is directed and acted with such skill, and has an important message, it is a film that deserves to be seen and to be discussed. Do not skip it simply because of its dark subject matter.