Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 10, 2011)
Best known for his character on Friends, David Schwimmer stepped into a different role as the director of Run, Fatboy, Run. With 2010’s Trust, Schwimmer steps farther away from his comedic bread and butter as he helms a much more serious film.
14-year-old Annie Lambert (Liana Liberato) meets a high school junior named Charlie on the Internet. They develop a relationship that goes beyond simple chat and turns more emotional – and potentially romantic.
Except Charlie’s not 16. Or 20, as he later “confesses”. Or even 25, as he subsequently claims.
No, Charlie (Chris Henry Coffey) is at least 35 – and maybe older. Annie realizes this when they meet in a local mall. At first, she feels taken aback but when Charlie sweettalks her, she agrees to spend the afternoon with him. This eventually leads them back to his motel, where they engage in sex. Though she seems uncomfortable with this, Annie goes through with it because she believes Charlie loves her.
Annie’s world gets turned upside down soon thereafter. Charlie becomes less communicative, which sends her toward depression, and her best friend Brittany (Zoe Levin) – who saw the pair together at the mall – tells school administrators what she observed.
This leads the Lambert clan on a dark journey. Law enforcement officials become involved and fissures develop among family members. Father Will (Clive Owen) becomes obsessed with finding and punishing “Charlie”, while mother Lynn (Catherine Keener) simply tries to keep things together.
When I reviewed the dull, forgettable Fatboy, I opined that Schwimmer might be better off if he remained in front of the camera. I’m glad he didn’t heed my advice, as Trust shows that he might have talent as a director after all.
Given Schwimmer’s pedigree, it comes as no surprise that I feared the worst from Trust. I worried that he’d try so hard to make a Big Statement with his first “serious” directorial effort that the film would end up as melodramatic and overwrought.
On occasion, Trust does flirt with those concerns, but the vast majority of the film seems surprisingly understated. Schwimmer does aim for some larger social truths here, especially as he views the casual manner in which society sexualizes kids. It’s not a coincidence that Will heads an ad firm that runs a campaign focused on underclad young models – models who could easily pass for underage. We also see how Will’s married work partner Al (Noah Emmerich) flirts with much younger women.
In other words, Trust demonstrates the fine line between “acceptable sexualization” and the criminal kind practiced by “Charlie”. Schwimmer threatens to beat us over the head with this but he never quite goes that far. One scene in which Will freaks out at a party comes closest; surrounded by erotic images of models who seem to be the same age as Annie, Will loses it. That’s probably as close as the film comes to overt editorializing, though; instead, it prefers to suggest social hypocrisy rather than shout it.
While the movie does flirt with these subjects, it prefers to focus on the impact on the family, and that’s where it works best. The film certainly doesn’t do much to hint at its darkness as it starts. Indeed, if you don’t know the plot in advance, you could easily see it as just a teen romance in its early moments; we watch as Annie goes about her happy life and flirts with her Internet “boyfriend”. It’s not until she meets Charlie at the mall that we comprehend it won’t end well for her.
To Schwimmer’s credit, he allows these moments to play out in a fairly natural way. Occasionally, he uses music and editing to add impact, but those moments don’t seem heavy-handed, and many come from the point of view of the characters, so they’re allowed to be more melodramatic. For the most part, the movie generates a realistic feel that allows it to become more powerful.
And powerful it is, partly because Schwimmer lets the heartbreaking events speak for themselves and not overwhelm us with forced emotion. The film also offers an interesting perspective as we get so much from Annie’s point of view. While everyone around her cries “rape”, she remains attached to “Charlie” and defends him. It’s a surprising take but totally appropriate, as a semi-brainwashed 14-year-old would feel that way.
The movie also benefits from consistently excellent performances. In particular, Liberato does wonders with Annie. Surrounded by much more accomplished actors, Liberato does more than hold her own; she delivers a knockout turn that owns the movie. Without question, she gets the most difficult role, and she handles it with aplomb – all at the age of 14. As I watched Trust, I assumed an older actor played younger; Liberato takes the part’s challenges so well – and the story involves so much unpleasant material – that I figured they’d use a young-looking 20-year-old. Nope – they cast 14 for 14, and they cast well. Liberato aptly conveys all the conflicting emotions that roil inside her character.
Owen is also excellent, and Keener does well in an underrepresented role. If I had to pick a weak link in the film, it’d be the lack of real purpose given to the Lynn character. She seems rather passive throughout much of the movie, and this doesn’t make a ton of sense; I get the impression the screenwriters simply couldn’t come up with time to flesh out Lynn so they left her on the sidelines.
That minor misstep aside, Trust offers a solid dramatic experience. It avoids easy answers as it delves into the havoc sexual abuse wreaks and ends up as a powerful, wrenching film.