If you're looking for a film that sums itself up, or answers the tough questions it proposes, this isn't the film for you. Consider it to be a less vacuous version of The Lovely Bones - but, without a realization that there's some form of God or Heaven. And it's that supreme grounding of reality that keeps Trust from being almost too much to handle. If the film had taken any other route, it would have been exploitative of its drama and lead actress, and deaf to the complaints it would gather. Thankfully, David Schwimmer makes a multitude of brave decisions in his direction of the film - the bravest of which, I fully believe, is showing the villain's face. He's real - and you probably know someone exactly like him. That's the real terror.
You'll never hear anyone call Trust a horror film, but I'll go ahead and break that ice. It is, by its own nature, horrific. Generally speaking, horror movies get pigeon-holed as being about serial killers with masks who stalk and attack teenagers. Well, look at the very topic of Trust - it's about a 14-year-old girl who meets a young (?) boy named Charlie online. When they meet in person, she is raped in a hotel room. Where a conventional horror film would take that is the rape, and then maybe the hunt for him. Where Schwimmer wisely takes it is the grief stricken parents' side of dealing with it all. Angry conversations, threats of violence, the FBI investigation at their front door, how people look at their daughter... Trust's title says a lot about the film - the parents' trust in their little girl, their little girl's trust in the world and in Charlie, but intuitively, I think it speaks of Schwimmer's trust in the audience to take the film at more than face value.
David Schwimmer, some might know, has for years now been a heavy activist for rape awareness. Some might consider the film to be a "cautionary tale", in that sense, but I think that would only dumb down the intent of the film. And this is a film which is never simple. The film opens near Annie's (Liana Liberato) birthday. She's turning 14, and her father Will (Clive Owen) and mother Lynn (Catherine Keener) give her the newest MacBook Pro. Being a teenage girl, she's a texter and an online-chatter. She meets a young man named Charlie (Chris Henry Coffey) and beings to fall for him. Of course, over the next few weeks, Charlie tells her that he's not her age. No where near, actually. He's in college. He's 20. 25. He's, well... why don't they meet to talk about it? They do meet. He's about 40. Calm, collected, and happy as all Hell to finally meet the woman he loves.
The series of events that occur next neither require nor would they benefit from explanation. I can tell you this, without squashing the subtext of the film - Annie is raped. That much is not a surprise. What is a surprise, however, is that it isn't shown. Schwimmer makes an excellent choice in showing us the "horror movie's killer", but makes an ever braver choice in letting the viewer not be in the room during the attack. It happened. We all know what's happening. There isn't any reason for us to be there anymore. One of Annie's friends at school sees her with the creepy middle-aged guy and calls the police. Annie is hauled out of class for questioning and identification. She wasn't raped; it was consensual. Every other person in the room can't believe what they're hearing. "He raped you." "He loves me." "He's done this to dozens of other small girls." "He told me I was special." It feels familiar. It probably, and unfortunately, is. The film uses title cards that appear on the screen to let the audience in on some of their chats.
One of the most interesting choices that the screenplay makes is not painting the survivor's family as a stereotype. Lonely girl in need of affection, neglectful parents, some old man with wire-rim glasses and a trench coat. Do that, you have a Lifetime movie that is exploitative and careless. Schwimmer understands that rape isn't a specific crime. If you think you understand what type of people it happens to, you're dead wrong. It happens to everyone - even young girls with loving parents who are well off, girls who have everything going for them, girls who aren't lonely or unhappy. Rape is a hate crime. The film makes no concession of that, however, but it doesn't circumvent the definition, either. Rape is rape, and it happened. The film shows what happens afterward. Sometimes through scenes with her psychologist, as played by Viola Davis (an antithetical character to hers in Doubt).
The cast is uniformly perfect in their roles. I'm always interested watching Clive Owen outside of the "King Arthur/I'll Sleep When I'm Dead" performances; he's an actor with tons of instinct and character. And Catherine Keener's ability to always feel like an old friend is put to the best use it's been put to in years. Schwimmer is an actor's director, no doubt. The true start of the film, though, is Liana Liberato as the survivor. I felt, watching her, the way I did when I saw Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense, or Saoirse Ronan in Atonement - a flawless performance, full of understanding and thought, for anyone of any age. Just purely excellent work. She plays Annie exactly how she should, without a single false note - she's a trustworthy, somewhat flighty girl, and completely unaware of herself or the dangers of the world around her. The interactions between her, Owen, and Keener should be an acting lesson for those interested in the craft. They aren't just responding; they're listening. And as they're characters, it's almost like they can't hear the person talking. That sort of divide caused by tragedy is heartbreaking to see.
Despite its broad and invasive content, Trust is a film made of quiet moments. It's off-set in an extremely clever way by a score that rolls through each scene, almost like a DJ letting a beat build. I was reminded of Inception's score, though it was never that loud or obtrusive. Think of a heartbeat when you listen to it. It fits. Trust is expertly edited and photographed, and Schwimmer never makes an obvious choice in his scenes. It seems as if this is the story he was born to tell as a filmmaker, and as well received as this film was, he'll have the chance to tell more stories, as he sees fit. Maybe none as effecting or painful as this one, but his own stories never the less. His last film, Run Fatboy Run, displayed a flare for dark comedic humor. Trust displays an understanding of dark and sympathetic human nature. While doing my research for the film, I watched scenes of him in The Pallbearer and Duane Hopwood. This side of Schwimmer's nature, if you've seen those films, shouldn't have been a surprise. I think, mostly, I was just blind-sided by how genuine and heartfelt a film like this could be in 2011.
A note, and a spoiler -
Over the credits, when a home video of "Charlie" is played (him at a BBQ with his family and friends), there was a small detail that I kept going back to in my notes. There was a small chirp in the background, probably a bird, but to me it felt like impending sirens. And again, another brave choice of Schwimmer's, we never see Charlie get caught. We only want him to, more and more.