David Schwimmer's Trust begins with a family scene so low-key and intimate as to immediately disarm the viewer. It is the 14th birthday of Annie (Liana Liberato), and everything seems perfect: she's just started high school, she's going out for volleyball, and she has a strong family that loves her. Her father Will (Clive Own) is a successful ad exec, her mother Lynn (Catherine Keener) is kind and supportive, she gets along with her older brother and younger sister. And she has a crush on a very cute boy.
His name is Charlie, and they met in a chat room. He's a couple of years older, a junior, but he's sweet and funny, and he gives her some good advice as she's prepping for tryouts. And then he makes a confession: he's actually 20. Later, come to find out, he's actually 25. (Their Internet conversations are shown as on-screen text, a wise move that avoids awkward voice-over.) "Y do you keep lying to me?!?!" she demands, but Charlie has a way of saying just the right thing to smooth things over--even when, against her better judgment, she meets him in a mall and discovers a man who is clearly in his mid-to-late 30s. "Forget about the age stuff, " he tells her. "It's me, Charlie." He talks about her "maturity" and their "connection," that she's his "soul mate," "wise beyond your years." This, clearly, is not his first time doing this.
What happens after that will not come as much of a surprise--and the film isn't structured as if it will be. Less than 1/3 of the way into the film, after that initial meeting, Charlie takes Annie back to his motel room, has her model the lingerie he has bought her, and then rapes her. The turn of events is not packaged as a shock--the tension, awkwardness, and subtle pressure of the sequence is unbearable, and Schwimmer lets the dialogue (and pauses) carry the scenes without obvious overwrought scoring or scare edits.
What is surprising and unusual about Trust is how it confounds our expectations for what will come after that. Because Will is played by Clive Owen, the modern master of the reluctant-man-of-action thing, we assume that he will find himself dissatisfied with the incompetence of the authorities and go after the man who violated his little girl, vigilante-style. Because Annie has been so exploited and debased, we assume that she will run to his arms and beg her daddy to make it right. But Will is not a simple hero, and Annie is not a simple victim, so what happens instead is more believable, more interesting, and ultimately more tragic.
Because of the very innocence that Will fears she has lost, Annie cannot fathom the monster that her Charlie has shown himself to be; she's able to apply the kind of twisted teenage logic that can lead to her saying something like "I just hope he's okay." Will becomes so obsessed by what was done to her that he blows their relationship altogether--she shuts herself down, becomes obstinate and angry, turns this technologically-inspired rift into the age-old dilemma of the overprotective parent and the rebellious child. Meanwhile, the well-shaded differences between Will and Lynn's very different brands of utterly desperate helplessness begin to tear at the fabric of their marriage.
It's a relationship that is, in the early scenes, comfortable and believable; as they fall apart later, both actors do some of their best work to date. Keener has a scene in their dining room where she finally lets him have it, and she doesn't hold back--it's the kind of raw, unguarded acting that doesn't make its way to the screen as often as you'd think. Owen, who plays most of the film in a muted key, has two scenes of similar power. In one, he confesses his simmering rage to Annie's counselor (the always excellent Viola Davis), and though Schwimmer's camera almost uncomfortably close to him, he doesn't flinch. In the film's final scene, he displays such open and heart-wrenching emotion that we're taken aback.
But the most remarkable work is done by the newcomer Liberato, who is given a (to say the least) difficult and demanding role and doesn't miss a beat. She plays scenes that are, for lack of a better phrase, "acting showcases" (a furious blowup in her bedroom, a tearful resignation on their stairs), but the moment that lingers longest is one with no words at all: the way the light just goes out of her eyes at that darkest and most tragic moment.
Trust's MPEG-4 AVC isn't a dazzler, but it's appropriate to the picture, which is low-key and naturalistic with few opportunities to show off. It's a clean image, nicely saturated and sporting fine, natural skin tones; black levels are a bit mushy, particularly as darkness and shadows increase in the later sections of the film, but not to a point of distraction.
The English 5.1 TrueHD surround track creates a warm and enveloping soundscape even while mostly confining itself to the front and center channels. Surround speakers are mostly used for music cues, though widening environments (like the big ad launch party) are appropriately boisterous. Dialogue is clean and well-balanced throughout.
Bonus features are disappointingly slim. The standard-def featurette "Between the Lines: The Story of Trust" (16:44) is basically an EPK piece, heavy on clips, though it does have some bits of insight from the cast and filmmakers (including Schwimmer and his unfortunate haircut). Nine deleted scenes, inexplicably labeled as Outtakes, are also included in standard-def, letterboxed 4:3, though the brief scenes are irritatingly lacking a "play all" function (and strangely, some are titled with the actor's name--"Clive and Agent Tate"--while others have the character name--"Will and Lynn in Kitchen"). They're mostly quick throwaways understandably tossed, though two (Will and Lynn's return home after Annie's rape, and Will's encounter with a sex offender) would have helped greatly to tie up a couple of loose ends.
Trust is a tough, uncompromising movie--it is hard to watch, and offers no easy answers or pat resolutions. The subject matter could have (and has been) done at TV-movie level, and there are moments where it veers dangerously close to that. But the sensitivity and intelligence of the telling and (especially) the playing pulls it back. This is a fine, harrowing piece of work.
Jason lives with his wife Rebekah and their two cats in New York and holds an MA in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU. He is film editor for Flavorwire and is a contributor to Salon, the Atlantic, and several other publications. He blogs at Fourth Row Center and is yet another critic with a Twitter feed.