Saturday, June 11, 2011

Flawed "Trust" packs an emotional punch

Trust (2011)
106 min., rated R.
Grade: B +

With "The Social Network" and "Catfish," social networking was at the center of those films. Those dealt specifically with Facebook, while "Trust" goes back to when chatrooms on the Net were still a hot-button issue. Who knew Ross from TV's "Friends" (David Schwimmer) could make such a relevant, instantly absorbing, and powerfully crafted cautionary tale about the dangers of Internet communication and parenting? 

14-year-old high school volleyball player Annie Cameron (Liana Liberato) has been chatting on the Internet with "Charlie from California." Her loving, supportive parents, Will (Clive Owen) and Lynn (Catherine Keener), hear all about Charlie, but just accept the fact that he's the same age as their daughter. As their conversation escalates, Charlie grooms Annie, sending a picture and telling her he's a 20-year-old college student, then changes it to a 25-year-old grad student. Annie wonders why he keeps lying, until she agrees to meet Charlie at the mall while her parents drop their older son off at college. Inevitably, Charlie turns out to be a thirtysomething man (Chris Henry Coffey). As alarmed and disappointed as she is, the 14-year-old girl gets coerced into going for ice cream and then back to his hotel, where Charlie has sex with Annie. Even when Annie's best friend, having seen her at the mall with the older man, tells the school principal and an investigation undergoes itself, Annie doesn't see it as rape and rejects everyone's concern. Annie's father becomes obsessed with the case and wants personal vengeance against Charlie. But rather than being there for his daughter's pain and feelings as a social stigma at school, Will can't get the obsession out of his head. 

Director David Schwimmer ("Run, Fatboy, Run"), an active advocate for the Rape Treatment Center in Santa Monica, never softens the subject matter nor makes it exploitative. He lets scenes breathe for more nuance to peel away and holds back at just the right moment, too. Schwimmer's direction is pretty bland, technically, but with the after-school-special material that might have aired on Lifetime, "Trust" is more dramatic than melodramatic. Andy Bellin and Robert Festinger's sensitive script understands the truth and psychology of this teenage girl's fallout and loss of self-esteem after such a devastating event. 

Owen and Keener are convincing and never strike a false note as the Camerons. But the breakout star is feature newcomer Liberato, a real-life 14-year-old, emotionally raw and natural as Annie, with her dimpled innocence making the film even more unsettling. Coffey, as the Charlie in question, is quietly creepy without being an obvious pedophile. And Viola Davis is also effective as Annie's counselor Gail, who sees all the shadings of Annie's story. 

Will's smarmy, insensitive co-worker (Noah Emmerich) working at an American Apparel-like clothing company that sexualizes youth is an obvious counterpoint, and Will's obsession is treated with too much of a heavy hand. "Trust" could have dealt less with Daddy's death-wish obsession, but that doesn't take away from the fact that this is a provocative and important film.

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