Friday, 8 July 2011

Trust (David Schwimmer, 2010) Review

Love lies bleeding... a teenager is manipulated with tragic consequences in Trust (2010)

Last year Catfish (Joost, Schulman, 2010) highlighted the dangers of social networking, specifically the way in which identity can be manipulated online. Indeed, on the Internet we can be whoever we want to be. We can change our name, our age and even our personality. Search Google Images for a photo to upload to your profile, or even pose as a friend. It's a nasty thing to do but it happens every day, and Catfish, whatever you thought of that film, made a clear point about the emotional devastation this can cause for the victims; how it breaks down relationships, rather than builds them, which is what social networking sites are supposedly for.

Catfish was about Facebook, but Trust is decidedly non-specific about the network Annie (Liana Liberato) uses to meet Charlie (Chris Henry Coffey), who tells her that he's sixteen. Slowly, as he gains her trust, he increases his age to twenty, then twenty-five. Annie is cautious, but the Internet has allowed her to idealize her suitor, especially when he sends her photos of himself. Eventually, behind the back of her parents (Clive Owen and Catherine Keener), she decides to meet Charlie, who turns out to be thirty-five. In a series of awkward sequences he charms her over coffee, hands her a present (skimpy red underwear) and takes her back to a motel, where he forces her into having sex (and, in a creepy reveal, turns out to be secretly filming it). These sequences are creepy not just for the quality of the acting, which finds Coffey sliming his way into our subconscious, but also because of the ill-judged writing...

Firstly, I don't believe in Annie's naïvety. It feels too much like innocence-in-extremis, as if she's an avatar representative of all the young girls who've been groomed online. She has a strong identity, and Liberato, a brilliant actress, invests her with depth. But as soon as we get to the mall she abandons all logic and becomes a whimpering fawn - she suddenly becomes a victim at the whim of the filmmakers, too easily manipulated by Charlie's sickly come-ons, and we lose faith in her character. It doesn't help that the motel scene may border on exploitation for some, and certainly the camera lingers on certain aspects longer than is really necessary, or comfortable. I also don't believe that Annie, who clearly struggled against Charlie's sexual advances, would go to such lengths in defending him later in the film. I understand that her psyche would probably try to repress the memory, and perhaps even change it to make the pain more bearable, but Annie's insistence that she loves the man is a little difficult to swallow, and her increasing stupidity is alienating.

It becomes even more difficult after the 40-minute mark, when the film loses all focus and wanders its way toward the finish without a defined message or point. Schwimmer has come from a televisual background, which is evident in his directorial style, and given the increasing histrionics of the story, which foregrounds father Will (Owen) for an unnecessary sub-plot which at one point threatens to turn into Death Sentence (Wan, 2007), and side-lines characters such as psychologist Gail (Viola Davis), who could present an interesting dynamic but instead becomes a plot device, it starts to feel a little bit TV Movie Of The Week. We flit between characters with no rhythm, and it becomes silly, especially in a brilliant sequence where Will attempts to find Charlie using a website called 'Pervert Tracker', which seems to hold all available sex offender information (including addresses) and is available to the public at all times. As clunking plot devices go this one is second only to the scene where FBI Agent Dawson (Max Bassett) leaves vitally classified information lying in a cafe for need of a bathroom break, where you can practically hear the gears shifting. It's a shame, because those central relationships are really well developed, and the family have a believable dynamic.

Trust is a well intentioned film, and kudos to Schwimmer for taking it on when many of his contemporaries would have backed down. This is a subject matter which needs to be dealt with, and for the first half Trust does it confidently, honestly and without melodrama. Then it loses focus, and I lose interest. Many have criticized the final shot but for me this was the film's boldest move. I shan't reveal what it involves, but it speaks the film's scariest truth, and almost makes up for the floundering which has come before...

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