Trustfall, by David Bax
Anytime you’re making a movie that takes on a suburban panic, tabloid fear topic – particularly one where women are the victims – you risk veering deep into Lifetime Original Movie territory. In making Trust, a film that concerns an online sexual predator, a rape and all the subsequent fallout, director David Schwimmer (Run, Fatboy, Run) was clearly aware of that. By the end of his film, Schwimmer has largely skirted the treacherous pitfalls of his plot by attacking it from an unconventional angle.
That’s not to say that Trust is without its shortcomings. The first act often creaks and groan as the machinations of the awful event we know is coming are set in place with little subtlety at all. Fourteen-year-old Annie’s new internet boyfriend, Charlie, is – to anyone who has watched even one episode of To Catch a Predator – so obvious in his deceit that it almost makes the viewer angry with his intended victim. Not to mention that, in these early stages, most of the characters are behaving as if they’re in a movie anyway. The coolest girl in the high school brags in a way that induces cringes about her blowjob aptitude. Annie occasionally says out loud the things she is typing, which no person has ever done outside of a movie. Her parents try to be cool and hip with a permissiveness they’re certainly going to regret.
But once the pieces are in place, Trust becomes mature, thoughtful and gut-wrenching in a way that is not cheap and manipulative but honest and raw. From the moment Annie makes the decision to meet Charlie in person, we’re watching a different movie. The scenes that make up their meeting and the ways, moment by moment, that he forces her into a mental and emotional corner are difficult to endure for their believability and Schwimmer settles into this sequence with such calm determination that we’re tempted to assume this is what the rest of the movie is going to be – a sadistic seduction by inches. It becomes like a horror film, tempting shouts of, “Don’t go in there!” But she does and then it happens and then everything changes and Trust becomes a movie you didn’t expect it to be.
The two most prominent ways that Trust earns its respect come not from Schwimmer but from the cast. The ever-reliable Clive Owen seems at first to be playing below his pay grade as a pretty standard issue suburban dad, although one with a British accent. And when the parents find out what’s happened to their daughter, it’s not he who has the initial breakdown. That would be his wife, played by Catherine Keener. Compared to her, Owen is nonreactive. It’s as the story goes on that it eats him from inside and his masculine desire to fix things is stymied at every turn by a situation that cannot be undone.
The second cast member to life the film up is the young Liana Liberato as the teen victim at the center. Without giving much away, her reaction is one that is challenging, not only to her friends and family and to the law enforcement personnel tasked with finding her attacker but to the audience as well. It’s a courageous movie that takes a teenage rape victim and makes her exasperating, your frustration compounded by the fact that you’re so simultaneously sympathetic toward her. And if the screenplay is gutsy, it’s nothing compared to Liberato herself, who steers directly into her role with both hands on the wheel, a shockingly assured performance from so young an actress.
“Trust” is only a five letter word but, in the hands of this movie, it contains volumes. It’s a similar concept to faith, and similarly difficult. To trust means, to a certain extent, letting go, admitting that you can’t control everything and that some things will go wrong. It also means that when they do, you have to let go again and allow others to help. As this film illustrates, that’s far easier said than done.