Advanced technology and the infinite doorways opened by the ever expanding universe of “online chat” have worked wonders for humankind. For one, this expansion has actually led to a contraction. The world is getting smaller by the minute, what with instant texting/communication being possible across two sides of the globe at the click of a button! Since its inception it has seen a steady growth in terms of usability and convenience. Only every boon brings with it, a curse; its dark flipside thanks to the immensely huge gamut of mindsets or mentalities of the human mind.
So while we have a reason to rejoice, with the age of the internet creating stronger bonds, we also have an added responsibility of keeping the monsters at bay! The monsters that are created when technology falls in the wrong hands; the hands of those countless teenagers who are at their most vulnerable and make internet chatting their way of life; get so deeply involved, they start trusting their ‘online friends’ more and tend to disregard their real flesh-and-blood relationships! And of course, the other hands of the actual monsters; the sexual predators, waiting to prey upon innocent young minds to make them their next victim after carefully grooming them and successfully and irreversibly altering their mindsets to frightening extremes….!
David Schwimmer, the star of the popular sitcom “Friends” directs “Trust”, an intense drama revolving around one such vulnerable and innocent teenager, emotionally lured into the ruthless world of online communication. Only the girl in question, 14-year-old Annie (Liana Liberato) is far too innocent and practically starts living in this world. From the countless members in chat rooms, she seems to have befriended ‘Charlie’, a 16-year-old guy from California, a volleyball player at his school who has managed to win her favor by offering her valuable volleyball advice, since she is aspiring to make it to the school team. And she finally does make the team, thinking it is this guy’s advice that helped her! Their chatting relationship grows, moves on to the phone.
Fuelled by the desire to be one-up among her peers, the desire to be accepted or recognized amongst some obnoxiously fake, trend-conscious schoolmates and the constant rebuking of the same by her loving but protective parents Will and Lynn Cameron (Clive Owen and Catherine Keener respectively) who insist she should “be herself” rather than put on a sham personality like some other wasted girls in school, finds an instant connection with Charlie who apparently is the “only one who understands her”!
But as days go by, Charlie makes newer confessions about his age; saying that he is 20, and later that he is 25. While Annie is upset that he lies to her, she finds herself growing increasingly attached to him. The time comes, to finally meet the guy face to face. Unfortunately it also means coming face to face with the shattering truth about the guy Annie has put her entire trust into. The guy is nice and gentlemanly, but he is actually in his mid-30s! But it is too late before Annie realizes he is actually a sick paedophile whose only intention behind all the sweet talk and support was to get her into a motel room and have his way with her; the intention which ultimately reaches its chilling consequence in one of the film’s most disturbing scenes!
Schwimmer himself is a director of a Rape Treatment Center which is actively involved in helping rape victims, in particular the victims of child rape and date rape. It is no surprise then, that he handles this rather sensitive subject of statutory rape with an original touch. There is no doubt that the man knows his characters, including the family of the victim, very well and brings out the angst that anyone in their place would feel quite accurately, barring a few minor exceptions. The way Annie lets herself get moulded like putty in Charlie’s hands and the way she becomes infatuated is devastatingly real; it is a sad reality which ultimately ends in heartbreak in most cases, but there has been nary a change in the situation and a number of young girls are losing their sleep over it! So is the helpless situation of her parents who don’t really want to imprison their child in the shackles of “rules” but are also not aware of where to draw a line when it comes to giving her freedom. They are blissfully unaware of her daughter’s tryst with this mysterious stranger, and never had any idea it had gone any step further beyond harmless chatting.
Andy Bellin and Robert Festinger write a screenplay rich with some clever scenes that do a mighty good job of giving an insight into Annie’s psyche torn apart by the situation. On one hand, she thinks her parents are overdoing it by “making a federal case out of it..literally” (just as the FBI steps in to investigate) and that she simply had consensual sex with a nice and gentle man. But this is clearly not what she actually feels in her heart. It is evidently the thirst for social acceptance speaking, for she even cites the examples of her school mates who have “slept with half the football team”! Only later in a subdued confession, to her counselor, Gail (Viola Davis), about the happening in the motel room, Annie mentions that when the act began, she slowly felt distanced from it; as if she wasn’t really a part of it, but was watching the scene from a distance. It is only when Gail explains to her the interpretation of that feeling, that a first hint of doubt appears in Annie’s mind and she suddenly walks out on her, dismissing the conversation!
Then there is the very important scene when an emotionally drained Will is questioned by his boss Al (Noah Emmerich) as to why his work was suffering. Will finally confesses that his daughter was sexually assaulted. Al is initially shocked but to Will’s utter disbelief, Al heaves a sigh of relief and seems to relax as soon as he comes to know that Annie “wasn’t attacked”. “It could’ve been much worse”, Al says, while a dumbfounded Will continues to stare at him! Goes to show the difference in mindset or the apathy or simply the ignorance when it comes to Statutory rape (with consent by a minor) against a forced attack!
While “Trust” succeeds, for the most part, in providing a considerably gripping picture of how the incident has an impact on the family relationships and behavior, there are other parts where the script falters and gives birth to some blatantly obvious holes. An FBI agent, Doug Tate (Jason Clarke), brought in to handle the case comes across as totally clumsy. How else does he then, after telling Will Cameron that he has the entire chat transcript from Annie’s computer that is ‘top secret’ right now as far the case’s progress is concerned, and refuses to share it with Will, manage to carelessly leave his briefcase containing all these transcript files for Will to easily flick them off him!? And apparently their man has already sexually assaulted three other minors in the past year or so. He shows the photos of past victims to Annie to find if she “knew them from somewhere” (although they are all from different states), a camp or something, because he feels there is a pattern or a common link! It doesn’t make any sense!
And if the man has been absconding for more than a year why hasn’t a sketch expert been called in to get an approximate face description of the guy? After all, three other girls could testify and an ID check could be done based on a best facial description, or at least a manhunt could be launched. And whatever happened to CCTV cameras in the mall that Annie met him in? Why weren’t they used? Why doesn’t Annie’s supposed best friend Brittany (Zoe Levin), who spots Annie in the mall with an elderly stranger, and even senses something amiss, run after her to get to the bottom of it?
Such obvious questions come to mind but are never answered. Instead, Doug Tate makes use of an essential ‘thriller’ ingredient; an arrangement to trap him via a ruse by trying to get him to talk for a duration long enough to know his whereabouts! Maybe tracking down the perpetrator wasn’t the real agenda of the film and that’s fine, but then why show even a half-baked attempt at finding him?
A lot of other holes and some melodramatic plot points render “Trust” a slightly hurried and amateurish job. Like Will becoming excessively obsessed with the whole thing, makes finding the guy and killing him his personal mission! All the lurid visuals of his daughter being assaulted make him angrier with each passing day! At one time, he even bashes up an innocent man at a volleyball game, thinking he is the assaulter! It is a part a tad unconvincing for an otherwise tangible character.
The acting is excellent for the most part especially by Liana Liberato, who is an epitome of an innocent teen trying to mix with her peers and trying hard to be in the game, although appearing confused at times, not knowing the difference between right and wrong. At the same time, when the disturbing reality of what happened to her finally dawns upon her, she lets out a cry of helplessness in a heartbreaking breakdown scene. It is a solid, uninhibited performance indeed.
While hers is a realistic portrayal though, one wonders why introduce a character (albeit minor) like Serena (Zanny Laird), who is so visibly fake and vulgar, mouthing off lewd dialog with her hammy grimacing, and looks like some cardboard-cutout straight from the American Pie movies!
A word about Clive Owen, who, delivers convincingly in most of the film suffers from a problem faced by many actors in the business. When it comes to extreme emoting like sobbing or breaking down, he comes off as a little forced and awkward in his delivery. This is where the otherwise dependable actor somewhat disappoints.
Catherine Keener is in top form, though, as the supportive mother who would rather engage herself in healing the daughter’s wounds rather than concentrate on tracking down the perpetrator.
By the third act it pretty much becomes clear where the film is headed as far as its conclusion is concerned and it is just fine. It shouldn’t have ended any other way. Despite the obvious flaws that create some road blocks, “Trust” deserves to be seen, solely for its daringly original script, and its sensitive handling in the primary context, its well-written, likeable characters that you can identify with, some terrific acting and a satisfying culmination.