‘The Trial’ Avoids Its Own Story

'The Trial' is compelling enough, but it remains an uneasy proposition. It's laudable that it even attempts to tell this kind of story, but it's kind of disappointing that it leaves so much of this premise unexplored.

The Trial presents a very provocative scenario. Ronald (John Lloyd Cruz) is a developmentally delayed adult working towards an elementary school diploma at the university where he works as a gardener. He receives tutoring from teacher Bessy (Jessy Mendiola), with whom he is in love. A video emerges of the two of them depicting what very much appears to be a rape. Charges are filed against Ronald, and he is confronted with the possibility of being sent to prison.

But the film actually pulls a bit of a bait and switch. The story is mainly told from the perspectives of Amanda and Julian (Gretchen Barretto and Richard Gomez), the parents of a deceased friend of Ronald. The two have a marriage that's fallen apart, and they're in the process of separating when this case suddenly pops up. The story of Ronald and Bessy is actually pushed to the sidelines for the most part, the film focusing more on the ups and downs of the relationship between the married couple as they try to help the accused.

This is presumably because the movie wants the truth to remain a mystery. The true circumstances surrounding the video are saved for the very end, and the emotional fallout of that revelation is largely avoided. In its place, we get a story of a married couple trying to deal with issues of betrayal, loss and guilt, the two working out their issues as they try to defend someone who their son loved. The story it ends up delivering has its merits, but it does feel like a bit of a cop-out. The most complicated and compelling character arc is kept in the background, pushed aside in favor of a far more basic story about forgiveness.

Things get problematic as the movie searches for drama. The movie pierces the delicate veil of reality as it constructs big, emotional moments that more often than not have characters shouting out their feelings and acting in ways that skew to soap opera levels. The film's best moments are quiet, scenes that subtly establish the depth of the relationships between these characters. But in its pursuit of big moments, the film often ends up playing off notes that betray the reality of the moment. The courtroom scenes, for example, feel a little shrill given the seriousness of the situation.

There are plenty of pitfalls to playing a developmentally challenged person, but John Lloyd Cruz mostly acquits himself in this instance. Cruz never lets go of the character's dignity, largely avoiding the temptation to overplay the difficulties. It's a pretty interesting performance from one of the finest actors working today. It stands out all the more for how much of it is internal. There are a lot of showy performances in this movie, particularly in the courtroom sequences. It all feels a little out of phase.

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The Trial is compelling enough, but it remains an uneasy proposition. It's laudable that it even attempts to tell this kind of story, but it's kind of disappointing that it leaves so much of this premise unexplored. It ends up falling back in tired dramatic instincts; the ones that call for big, showy sequences where everybody falls to tears. There's a much quieter story to be told, one that really digs into the emotional struggle of the two main players. The film instead tells the story of the people around them. And while it isn’t a bad story in anyway, it doesn’t feel like the one that really needed to be told.

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My Rating:
  2.5/5 stars

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