by Scott Mendelson
The most pleasantly surprising thing about David Schwimmer's Trust is just how much it, yes, trusts the audience. There is a refreshing lack of melodrama and a lack of explicit moral exposition that truly makes it an adult picture in the best sense of the word. Its subject matter (a young girl who has unwilling sex with a much older man she met online) could easily be the stuff of either tawdry sensationalism or finger-wagging pontification. But Schwimmer is not making a John Walsh-ish epic about the sexual predators who are around every corner just waiting to violate our daughters. He instead sets out to tell a very specific story about a specific family that happens to undergo a traumatic ordeal, and he refuses to lecture. While it is a flawed and occasionally frustrating picture, Trust has the decency to respect our intelligence.
The plot basically involves fourteen-year old Annie Cameron (Liana Liberato) who starts chatting online with a man calling himself Charlie. She feels an instant connection and attraction, so even when he keeps apologetically upping his actual age ("I'm actually 20." "No, I'm actually 25.") she is disconcerted but proceeds anyway. She eventually agrees to meet up with Charlie, who turns out to be a handsome and creepily-friendly 35 year-old man (Chris Henry Coffey). Although she is angered, "Charlie" uses her innate desire to be considered emotionally-mature and convinces her to forgive him and they end up at a motel, where a sexual assault does take place. The rest of the film revolves around Annie's need to believe that Charlie was not a predator and that she was not a victim, along with her father Will Cameron (Clive Owen) becoming so consumed by vengeance that he forgets to be a supportive parent.
What makes the picture work is that it is unafraid to confront the cultural hypocrisy at play. When she's first confronted about the incident, Annie is genuinely confused as to why it's a criminal matter, since any number of her classmates have had sex too. Why is one young girl who gets used for sex a victim while another is not? Even before the assault takes place, we are treated to various images of sexualized teens that Will himself created in order to sell clothes at an American Apparel-ish label. And there is a blink-and-you-miss it moment where Will's coworker blatantly hits on a very young waitress, encouraged by her assurances that she is the ripe-old age of nineteen. The film is full of subtle touches like that, acknowledging full well the sometimes arbitrary nature of how sexual contact is treated in the criminal justice system. The film doesn't approve of the overt sexualization of younger and younger kids, and it certainly doesn't use cultural mores to excuse what clearly is a case of rape (not the statutory kind, despite what certain characters thoughtlessly blurt out). But nor does it allow characters to make over-the-top speeches about the subject either.
Where the film stumbles is in the handling of those around Annie. Trust acknowledges that the reaction to the rape may be more harmful to Annie than the actual incident itself. But the focus is so clearly on (obviously) Annie and her embittered father that the rest of the cast gets left adrift. Catherine Keener gets little to do as Lynn (Annie's mother) other than to constantly complain about Will plunging into the pit of vengeance. And I sincerely wish the film had explored Annie's relationship with her best friend at school, a friendship that is tested when she catches Annie at the mall with "Charlie" and later 'finks' on Annie. In fact, very little time is spent discussing how the reactions of her friends and family (other than her father) affect Annie after the attack. And the opening scenes, where Annie's college-bound brother assures his father that he can handle himself have an unintentional (?) whiff of 'young boys can be trusted without parental supervision but young girls can't'. And there are just a couple moments when the film descends into 'book report' territory, especially a silly scene where Will and Lynn are SHOCKED to discover that sexual predators indeed live in and around their neighborhood.
The cast is uniformly superb throughout, even if they are occasionally not given enough to do. Clive Owen gives a strong turn as a tormented father who realizes how angry he is at his own daughter for getting herself into such a situation, and then double-backs into finding the perp as a form of his own guilt for feeling as he does. Speaking of which, while it may be realistic, it becomes tedious after awhile how Will seems to make an emotional breakthrough over-and-over again only to do something reckless or downright cruel and start the cycle all over again. Jason Clarke plays a refreshingly low-key and professional FBI agent, a man who hunts child predators for a living and stopped being shocked by it a long time ago. I wish Viola Davis had a few more moments as (yet again) a kind, thoughtful, and brutally honest therapist. It is through her that we get the inherent moral of the story: it's not a parent's job to completely protect their children from any-and-all danger, but rather to be there if and when bad things happens. Her work is, as usual, the highlight of the film. And Liana Liberato shines as a young woman who refuses to admit the truth to herself primarily due to her inability to acknowledge that she is indeed a crime victim.
David Schwimmer earns major kudos for not overplaying his hand. Trust exists first-and-foremost as a character study about how a family copes with a tragedy. The film asks unpleasant questions and refuses to provide any real answers, and the it ends with most of the main plot threads still dangling. I could have done without the end-credits cookie, which follows the emotional climax of the film with a moment that does indeed flirt with something out of a traditional horror film. But while Trust doesn't acknowledge how rare this kind of victimization actually is, nor does it sell the lie that every moment spent online is fraught with peril. Trust isn't concerned about what happens to every kid online. It only cares about what happened to Annie.