Trust is all about a world without innocence. It is one where predators live across the street, and young people are constantly in danger of being victimized. The film makes a fair point about the consequences of social networks and unsupervised Internet access. Great acting makes that subject pretty compelling. But in its fervor to drive its points home, Trust wallows a little too deeply in its darkness, in the process making for a clunky narrative that keeps pushing the fear and little else.
Fourteen year old Annie (Liana Liberato) has forged an online relationship with what she thinks in a teenage boy. It turns out that her friend is lying about his age, and has been slowing plying young Annie with words of support and comfort. Annie’s shocked to learn about the deception, but is still drawn to their connection. This culminates in Annie meeting up with her friend, who turns out to be a middle-aged man. They have sex, and despite Annie’s desire to keep the affair a secret, the case is brought to the authorities. Outraged, her father Will (Clive Owen) becomes obsessed with finding justice, and the conflict tears their family apart.
The story sounds like the stuff of revenge thrillers, where good men and women turn to violence to find a measure of satisfaction against those who’ve wronged the people they love. But the movie shrugs off this fantasy and instead follows a more realistic path. It depicts how in real life, justice is hard to come by. And in some cases, the very pursuit of justice can do more harm than good. Rather than give audiences the satisfaction of revenge carried out, it creates tension with the paranoia of the modern age, where predators lurk in every corner, and young people have access to things that can do them harm.
It’s a great idea, but Trust overplays its hand a bit. It hits on the same beats again and again, pushing its characters to the extremes of their behavior. Will, who is by all accounts a good father, takes too long to realize how wrong he is. And Annie, who is otherwise a smart young kid, takes too long to realize the gravity of her situation. There’s space in the film to explore more than the anguish of the situation. There is a culture beyond the sadness that’s culpable in the crimes like this one, and it might have served the film well to push past the personal drama and examine society as a whole.
The film is saved from utter tedium with a set of terrific performances. Liana Liberato is a great young actress. This role called for her to have several profound changes, and she handles everything with grace and skill. Clive Owen is a little out of place in American suburbia, which might just be the key to understanding the father role. Owen does a fine job of expressing Will’s impotent rage, the man of action stuck with being unable to do anything to help someone he loves. When the emotions finally make their way through the rugged exterior, it’s actually pretty affecting.
Trust is only sometimes insightful, finding veins of truth in its depiction of the gap that can grow between generations as technology advances. But the film limits itself by only concentrating on the fracture. It hits the same notes over and over, never letting the audience free from the fear of a predatory world. What it doesn’t show is the rebuilding, forgetting that people can grow and change and find ways to deal with the evil that lurks in the fringes, even when justice is unavailable. The film is still pretty compelling when is said and done, but it’s definitely dire to a fault.