April 4, 2011

TRUST: Tangled Interweb

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Written by: Mitch Salem
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Worth A Ticket.
Of all the “Friends” who kept America company in its collective living room for a decade, David Schwimmer has taken the most concerted step away from the work that made him famous.  While Courtney Cox, Matthew Perry, Matt LeBlanc and Lisa Kudrow have mostly continued in TV comedy, and Jennifer Aniston’s movies are essentially sitcoms for the big screen, Schwimmer has made it clear that he’s now a director and not an actor.  (He does keep a profitable finger in performing by providing a voice for the Madagascar cartoons.)  After a fair amount of TV directing, he made his segue to features with the dim comedy Run Fat Boy Run, and now he’s jumped to very dark, serious drama with the new TRUST.  
Trust takes on one of the most chilling subjects in our new technological world:  predators who pursue minors in internet chatrooms, pretending to be their peers and earning their confidence.  14-year old Annie (Liana Liberato, a TV actress with exceptional screen presence) befriends a boy via chat, text and phone who she initially thinks is 16, falling for him so completely that she ignores every sign that he’s not remotely who he claims to be.  When they finally meet, the worst happens, and Annie’s family all but falls apart, as her dad (Clive Owen) throws himself into tracking down the man in lieu of dealing with his daughter’s raw feelings, and her mother (Catherine Keener) tries ineffectively to reestablish contact with her child.  
The thing about a movie like Trust–and it’s unfair–is that its subject matter is so unpleasant and uncomfortable that it gets no leeway; people will only buy tickets if it’s declared to be just about perfect and critics demand that they go (and maybe not then).  Trust did what it could–it premiered at the Toronto Film Festival, hoping for raves–but despite being admirable in many ways, it was also too clearly flawed to break through.  (And although Owen and Keener are very fine actors, they have limited boxoffice value.)  Consequently, it’s being released by the small Millenium Films, and its debut this weekend averaged just about $2000 per theatre, probably on a fast track to homevideo.  

Which is a shame, because Trust takes a lot of chances.  The script, by Andy Belin and Robert Festinger, doesn’t shy away from emotional complexity (Festinger was co-writer of In the Bedroom).  This is particularly true of the character of Annie.  First, Schwimmer cast an actual 15-year old actress in the role; thanks to union rules and CW-type TV shows, we’ve grown used to actresses who are clearly in their 20s playing sexual characters, and the casting of someone who looks her real age makes viewing certain scenes as disturbing as they’re meant to be.  In addition, Annie doesn’t react to her attack with outrage:  she continues to believe herself in a romantic relationship–she thinks she’s in some version of “Romeo and Juliet,” with her parents unfairly keeping the true lovers apart, and the movie doesn’t condemn her for feeling this way.  We’re not used to people in stories like this acting in such a disconcerting way.  There’s believability, too, in Keener’s fumbled attempts to keep the family together, and even minor characters like the FBI agent on the case (Jason Clarke) and Annie’s therapist (Viola Davis) have some depth.
But there are missteps, mostly centered around the father character.  Not Owen’s fault–his performance is very strong–but in his semi-vigilante hunt for the bad guy, we’re in a world of contrivance that doesn’t fit the rest of the movie.  And although Schwimmer is first-rate with the actors and in his pacing of a difficult story, he’s far from imaginative visually, and sometimes he doesn’t trust his audience, underlining ideas in a way that feels like a scream in our ear.  (When Owen’s character becomes sensitized to the way teens are sexualized in our culture, you can practically feel Schwimmer checking off items from a list.)  And it would have been nice if Schwimmer hadn’t directed the film’s last scene as a virtual homage to the ending of Ordinary People, a film whose shadow hangs over this project anyway.
A serious American film that dares to poke into the psyches of, well, ordinary people, is always a rarity; for this audacity and for the excellent performances, Trust is worth its imperfections.  And Schwimmer may not have a hit or an award winner here, but he’s moving closer to the day when the word “Friends” doesn’t have to lead off his bio.
(TRUST – Millenium – 106 min.- R – Director:  David Schwimmer – Script:  Andy Belin, Robert Festinger  Cast:  Laura Liberato, Clive Owen, Catherine Keener, Viola Davis, Jason Clarke – Limited Release)
–Mitch Salem 

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."