10 July 2011

A Matter of Trust

I've been looking forward to the UK release of the film Trust for quite some time now. Not because I was particularly excited about the film itself, although it definitely sounded like an interesting if hard-hitting movie, but because it's been almost two years since I last saw Clive in a film, at the London Film Festival premiere of The Boys Are Back. Indeed, his role in Trust, as Will, the father of a teenage daughter Annie, who is groomed by a guy she meets online who claims to be 16, combines some traits of Joe Warr in The Boys Are Back, and with those of an older version of Larry in Closer. Like Joe, Will is fiercely protective of his family, desperate to keep them from getting harmed by a world full of harm. Like Larry, he is angry, vengeance-seeking, and seems to have the same accent, tone and "working-class" coarseness of which Larry is so proud.

***Some spoilers follow***

And Trust is plenty hard-hitting. Sad too, and I certainly wouldn't have guessed it was directed by David Schwimmer had I not known this in advance. But it was also very well made, with great performances from Clive (of course), Catherine Keener (as Annie's mother Lynne), and Liana Liberato, who plays Annie.

The opening of the film is much more light-hearted. In fact, the opening scene could easily have been an advert for either Apple or Starbucks's Frappuccinos, as Annie waltzes around the kitchen making a smoothie and chatting to her online buddies on her phone. The messages pop up on the screen, the text a different colour for each person. Clearly, one of her best online friends is someone called ChRleeCA (Charlie from California; incidentally, some of the txtspk in the film did feel a little bit like it was written by an adult trying to sound like a 14-year-old, which, I guess it was). Annie is quite taken with this Charlie, who is, supposedly, 16 , very funny, smart and sweet. Like Annie, he plays volleyball, so he can give her lots of helpful advice for making her high school team and so on. On Annie's 14th birthday, her father presents her with a new MacBook Pro (see what I mean about the Apple ad?), which facilitates her relationship with Charlie and allows her to video chat, send photos of herself and otherwise pursue this ill-advised liaison.

But then Charlie admits he's actually 20 and a sophomore in college. He didn't want to scare her off, he says. Later, when they've reached the stage of phoning each other (how 20th century), he says he's really a 25-year-old grad student. She's freaked out at first but eventually forgives him and when her parents go away for the weekend to take her older brother off to his first semester at college, leaving Annie and her younger sister in the care of their aunt, she takes the opportunity to meet Charlie at a mall. And of course, he's probably much closer to 40 than 25. Again, Annie is seriously freaked out but he persuades her to go and have an ice cream with him (where they are spotted by Annie's best friend) and slowly, he convinces her that he's still the same Charlie she knows and loves. He just didn't tell her because he wasn't sure she was mature enough to handle the age difference (eek), which, of course, wins her over. He presents her with the gift he's bought her -- inappropriate red, lacy underwear -- and soon she is in his motel room modelling it for him. She doesn't really want to take things any further but with a combination of sweet-talking and physical force, Charlie makes it happen. Oh, and he films it.

When Annie won't talk to Brittany, her best friend, about what's happened, worried Brittany tells the head teacher about who Annie met at the weekend, and soon the police are called in, and Will and Lynne find themselves called to the police station or hospital where their daughter is being examined so evidence for the rape kit can be collected. They are devastated and furious that they aren't even allowed to see Annie until the examination is complete. Finally, they take her home and while the FBI make a start on the case to try to track down "Charlie," Annie and her family have to start dealing with it.

Perhaps the most difficult thing is that Annie doesn't believe anything wrong happened. She believes that she and Charlie were in love and that thanks to her "jealous" best friend, the police and her family have brought an end to the best relationship of her life. Her relationship with her father, in particular, disintegrates because he doesn't know what to say or how to act. He feels stricken with grief because he was supposed to protect his daughter from this kind of thing and he couldn't. He failed her. Will tries to help by taking the investigation into his own hands, flying to New Jersey to meet with a "pervert tracker" group for advice on how to try to find Charlie. At Annie's volleyball game, he sees a guy who looks a bit like someone in the neighbourhood who is a registered sex offender and who is taking photos of the girls. He beats the guy to the ground and won't stop hitting him until he finds out the guy's daughter is playing in the game. Amazingly, the guy is pretty understanding and no charges are pressed. Meanwhile, Will becomes increasingly uneasy about his job -- he works for an advertising agency, one of whose clients is a teen and tween clothing company and so whose ads tend to feature scantily clad teens.

Eventually, the FBI find out, thanks to DNA analysis, that "Charlie" has targetted three other girls in the past few years, one of whom was only 12. Slowly, it dawns on Annie that she wasn't special, as Charlie had said, after all, and that all of the other things he had told her, that she was "wise beyond her years," "an old soul" and that he loved her were probably just lines. The knowledge of this coupled with some of her classmates PhotoShopping her head onto a naked porn star's body, adding her phone number and various lewd comments, and posting it online causes Annie to try to take extreme measures. But finally, she starts to come to a sense of peace and to deal with what has happened. And Will too starts to forgive himself and to realise that no matter how hard he tries to keep his children from getting hurt, he won't always be able to do so.

By the end of the film, there has been no indication that the FBI are any closer to catching Charlie but then, as the credits roll, we see a home movie being shot of a young child at an amusement park. When the kid turns the camera on his parents, we see that his father is Charlie and that Charlie is a teacher, probably of high school students. Grim stuff...

Grim but gripping. The story is told very sensitively and while it could have taken the crime thriller route of focusing on the investigation, the hunt for Charlie and perhaps Will's efforts to obtain his pound of flesh, instead it mainly addressed the effects of what had happened on the family and on their relationships with one another. For example, Will and Lynne's relationship suffers some strain as the events unfold; Lynne thinks Will should concentrate on helping his daughter rather than his misguided attempts at misguided justice. Meanwhile, the subplot of Annie's brother heading off to college provides another angle in the theme that at some point you have to let your children go; bad things may happen to them and that they may make mistakes but ultimately, sometimes all you can do is to help them pick themselves up afterwards.

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