DIRECTED BY DAVID SCHWIMMER
STARRING: LIANA LIBERATO, CLIVE OWEN, KATHERINE KEENER, JASON CLARKE, CHRIS HENRY COFFEY, SPENCER CURNUTT, AISLINN DEBUTCH, NOAH EMMERICH, ZOE LEVIN with TRISTAN PEACH and VIOLA DAVIS
‘Trust’ wants a trust broken and it does exactly that. A safer replacement seems improbable, the girl in question faces the storm as she needs to. Good times – and by that I mean clearer times – would come; it’s just a matter of time. “We can’t control what happens to us or our loved ones,” Gail Friedman (Viola Davis) tells the deranged dad in Will (Clive Owen). “The only thing we can do is be there for each other when we do fall down to pick each other up.” It’s shocking how true that statement is than how shocking it is, if you get what I’m saying. A truth that Will, obviously, finds hard to accept. One that Annie (Liana Liberato) doesn’t know, which she is imparted, for better than for worse, in the course of a film that aspires to be.
Annie is 14 years old and too tall for her age which has her play volleyball, which is what matches her up with Charlie (Chris Henry Coffey) on a teen social networking website. Doesn’t the idea of it sound redundant to you? Adolescents have more than enough fun at parties to be spending time online venting about being misunderstood, but Annie does exactly that. Remember Nikki Reed from ‘Thirteen’? Well, Serena (Zanny Laird) is an arguably less antisocial version of her, and she invites Annie to her party because Annie has an older brother Peter (Spencer Curnutt) who’s about to go to college. The party ‘rocks’ in every sense of the word, but Annie isn’t interested. The glam-girls call her in for their own kind of roulette. Annie asks to go to the bathroom. Her excuse is that she has a cell-phone too expensive for her age.
Annie texts Charlie on her cell-phone and chats with him on the Mac-Book her dad buys for her on her 14th birthday – things without which she wouldn’t have been able to get in touch with Charlie in the first place. Who’s to blame? Will, obviously, throws a lot of weight on his shoulders as he tries to show a man’s might in dealing with the situation. He staggers. He breaks too in that sequence where Dr. Friedman, his daughter’s assigned therapist, utters those wise words. She’s the camera in the confession room that we’re sitting in. She’s the only person, aside from us in the audience, who knows what actually happened in that motel room. And she won’t tell.
I found this to be a fundamental problem, as impacting as the film was otherwise. It’s a plain-clothed drama than one confuddled with perspective. I was disappointed in that I knew for sure because the film told me everything. The upside, however slight, is that I know it wanted to. I was not subjected with a morality question, it wasn’t a time for ‘what if’s. The characters – by which I mean Annie and her dad Will – clash with their perspectives. Annie puts her foot down in front of whom Will’s wisdom and a dad’s helplessness are of no match. But we KNOW. I found that knowledge difficult to deal with, where I thought I’d rather be asked to pick a side.
We’re introduced to Charlie as letters on a computer screen displayed in the frame for convenience. Annie tells her dad that he’s a 15 year old high school Junior from California as they live in Chicago and hence can’t confirm. Annie wants to. They exchange pictures as Charlie excuses himself from webcam chat as he says his camera isn’t working. Anyone who’s familiar with a chat forum knows that is bullshit. Annie does too. But she is 14 years old, so a picture works well, but only because Charlie ‘confesses’ that he’s 20 and a sophomore in UC Berkeley before he sends it to her. A week later (as it seems), he’s 25 and a grad student. Annie is furious because he lied to her, not because he’s too old. He has insulted her intelligence; abused her trust. Charlie knows to talk himself back into the business. Next thing we know, he calls her to the mall as her parents drop her brother at college. Annie is dumbstruck. In her own words, he “is not 25.”
All that I’ve described happens in a quick-fire 20 minutes. The rest is about coping with the distress. Distress that, Annie believes, is unnecessary. Distress which she thinks her parents have created for themselves and most importantly for her and Charlie, ‘us’ being a devastating word she throws too frequently in her confessions to Ms. Friedman. To her, Charlie is the 15 year old who has to be 40 as society wants him to be. Like how she’s the 14 year old who isn’t allowed to be 14. Her mother (Catherine Keener) disapproves of her buying a leopard-patterned bra while Charlie gives the go-ahead. He thinks she’s sexy. She thinks he’s the only one who understands her. As long as he’s not (I’m thinking like Annie here) disgustingly bad-looking or obese or diseased, she’d be fine with him. What’s worse is that she might actually be fine with him even in spite of those details. She’s in love, she says. And she believes he is too.
This is the problem that ‘Trust’ resolves and yes, it resolves it. The problem gives birth to another problem in a process which, however, has a family to support. It’s a situation which, to its traumatic best, brings Father, Mother and Daughter together and on their toes. The only one resisting it gives in. Annie wanted her parents to trust her to do the right thing. It’s the only thing she wanted aside from that Mac-Book which she obviously can’t live without from now. But then she spurns that too. And her cell-phone as well. The FBI investigation and Annie’s thoughts don’t read from different databases, processed by different processors. In the conclusive scene, Agent Tate (Jason Clarke) breaks news to her with proof that the man in question is, indeed, a sex-offender. I’m well aware that this revelation is a spoiler. It was for Annie. It was, for me too, but for a different reason.
‘Gone Baby Gone’ left the decision with us as much as it left it with Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck). ‘Trust,’ on the other hand, seals the case. I understand that what I expected is not what the film wanted to be, but that, I thought, doesn’t stop me from expecting it nevertheless. Think about it. Annie is as fragile as she smarts away from being. What ‘Charlie’ does to her is, indeed, a crime. I personally disbelieve in such predatory romance, arising from a surplus and a lack thereof that has nothing to do but with gender and age. Like between Work and College, between College and High school, between High and Middle. I draw the line between such admiration and intimacy. So does Schwimmer. We both were conservative when I wanted only one of us to be and I wouldn’t budge.
This is the only thing about ‘Trust’ that disappointed me. It’s not a morality question, it’s not an action-consequence presentation. It’s has a firm hold on its didacticism leaving nothing to question. An alternate film inside my head had Will and Agent Tate deciding upon what’s best for Annie, deciding to break her faith, deciding to show her pictures of victims of a sex-criminal whom they don’t know, who might actually NOT be their Charlie. That, I thought, would give food for thought, putting one’s foot down like that before a girl who does it like it’s second nature. It’s a sad decision to defeat a human being (let alone a 14 year old) to put her in her place, but I wanted that decision. And I was disappointed when I didn’t see that being made.
But that doesn’t stop ‘Trust’ from being an overwhelmingly brilliant film. And an important one at that. It’s gripping and it picks poise over rawness and brutality. Sometimes it gets too picturesque although never too graphic. It’s good. I’ve never tolerated a film that hyped its content in the course of its presentation, saving little for talk-shows and press-releases. In this case, I excused it. I trusted ‘Trust’ with the fragility of the content it handled. And I can safely say it didn’t let me down.