Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 21, 2017)
Michael Fassbender stars in 2016’s Trespass Against Us, a crime-related drama. Colby Cutler (Brendan Gleeson) leads an extended family that lives in a sprawling, isolated compound of trailers.
The Cutlers live a ramshackle, unstructured existence supported by various criminal enterprises. When various shenanigans threaten his wife and kids, Chad Cutler rebels against his father Colby and attempts to extricate from the wider clan. This leads to conflicts.
While I don’t endorse the notion that movies should only be about likable characters, I do think it becomes tougher to connect to a film in which the ostensible protagonist seems terribly flawed. That becomes an issue here, as the off-putting personality exhibited by Chad makes it more difficult to invest in his story.
On one hand, Trespass does set up Chad for redemption, and it demonstrates his potential positives pretty early. The opening scene makes Chad look reckless and foolhardy, but subsequent sequences let us see his desire to break away from the broader clan, especially due to the negative impact Colby and company put on Chad’s kids.
However, as the film giveth, it taketh away, for every scene of “progressive Chad” seems to get countered by one with “idiot Chad”. The character’s persistent inability to sustain a personality sans risky behavior means it becomes tougher to see him as much more than a jerk.
Trespass does try to balance our view of Chad via the manner in which it illustrates his environment. Because of Colby’s influence, Chad never got a formal education, and Colby’s myriad personality flaws mean Chad never had much of a chance – apple, tree and all that.
As such, I should probably respect and admire Chad’s desire to improve his lot and do better for his family, but damn, I find it hard to make that leap. The film depicts so many semi-fatal flaws in Chad that I encounter obstacles when I try to like or care about him.
It probably doesn’t help that I get the impression much of Chad’s push away from Colby and the bigger clan comes from the incessant nagging of his wife Kelly (Lindsey Marshal). I always feel that if she didn’t pester him so much, Chad would be perfectly content to continue on his sociopathic path along with Colby and the others.
I think the portrayal of the characters offers another double-edged sword. I like the fact that Trespass doesn’t paint the Cutlers as a band of charming outlaws – they’re barely-literate bottom-feeders, essentially, and I respect the absence of romanticism.
But once again, this means we’re stuck with 100 minutes of largely unpleasant people about whom we never care. Cripes – even the kids tend to seem unlikable! At no point do I ever invest in these journeys, and I think that runs counter to the filmmakers’ intentions.
Even without these issues, Trespass suffers because it takes forever to take us where it wants to go. The story feels padded, as it conveys Chad’s desire to break from the clan early but it requires an awful lot of time to move him there.
Again, some of this comes across as realistic, but it doesn’t work dramatically. Chad’s constant flip-flops feel more like they exist to fill out running time, and they make the story move too slowly. All these moments feel redundant and they don’t build the characters past what we figure out early in the tale.
The actors do fine, even if they can’t get me to care about their roles. I like the fact that Fassbender and especially Gleeson never attempt to soften their characters, so they never attempt to create endearing personalities that would violate the parts as intended.
All of this adds up to a movie I respect in its refusal to turn into a standard “feel good” tale, but not one that I enjoy or that I think achieves other goals. Trespass Against Us offers a tale with characters who fail to adequately engage the viewer, and that becomes a major weakness.