Reviewed at the 2010 Toronto Film Festival.
Nothing comes easy in “Trust,” a drama about pedophilia that will inevitably face heavy scrutiny should it make it out of Toronto, and even with Clive Owen and Catherine Keener, there’s reason to be skeptical. It is at once an attempt to deal with one of the last taboos in a way that keeps audiences engaged and it’s directed by one of the stars of “Friends” that refuses to employ the stylistic flourishes or overt moralizing that usually make such films easier to digest. Yet a lack of artistic creativity shouldn’t be mistaken for a lack of narrative ambition.
Schwimmer takes the road less traveled with “Trust,” the story of a 14-year-old named Annie, who becomes the victim of an online predator after months of IMs and texts with a boy she thinks is her own age, discussing volleyball and the other girls at her school. Except that Annie never really considers herself a victim, even after she meets her virtual boyfriend ChRLeeCA in the flesh, discovers he’s 40 and the two engage in not entirely consensual sex at a local motel where her mind drifts after some uncertain protests. In her eyes, if she’s a victim of anything, it’s what happens after the act, when her admission to a friend at school leads to a search for a man she still considers her “boyfriend” that truly has nasty repercussions.
Since Owen plays her father, this would be the part where you’d expect him to double pump a nearby shotgun and get angry for her, but to their great credit, the script from Andy Bellin and Robert Festinger leaves far more ambiguity than that. (It’s worth noting Festinger was last co-credited with the screenplay for “In the Bedroom.”) As the adult most shaken by Annie’s situation, Owen goes from pushing forward with an ad campaign of scantily clad models at work to wondering what he’s done wrong as a parent when there really might not be an answer. (Keener plays his wife and hits some nice grace notes in an underwritten part.)
To build some tension, Schwimmer indulges in some searching for the wanted pedophile, bringing in a FBI investigator (Jason Clarke) and a psychiatrist (Viola Davis) to help with any familial trauma, but “Trust” defiantly bucks the notion of being a chase film or some sort of Lifetime movie of the week in favor of realistically depicting the aftermath of such an incident. In their anger and confusion, Keener and Owen raise their voices more than once over what to do, appearing less mature at times than their young daughter who has the insecurities of a teenager that feed into her headstrong nature. First-time actress Liana Liberato gives a poised performance as Annie, though if there is any concession to the reality of movies versus actual reality, it’s that her cherubic dimples scream an innocence that tips the film’s hand as to where it’s going in the first act.
Schwimmer also has his limitations as a filmmaker, for better or worse. Whereas “Run Fatboy Run” suffered as a comedy from his restraint, “Trust” benefits from it, usually knowing when to let certain scenes breathe and when to pull back in others. There are a few instants where a heavy hand pokes through – Owen’s internal struggle ultimately manifests into some unexpected physical violence and Schwimmer is none too subtle in amping up the score and going crazy with the editing. But by that point, he’s generated enough goodwill by respecting the audience’s intelligence to make the more uneven aspects forgivable.
Considering there haven’t been many films of note to take on pedophilia with sophistication and ample consideration, and the few that have usually try to provoke by taking great strides to humanize the pedophile, “Trust” is a bold film, just for humanizing the victims by showing their flaws and making their plight seem all the more relatable.
“Trust” currently does not have U.S. distribution.