Actor-helmer David Schwimmer makes an ill-advised shift into Afterschool Special territory with his sophomore feature, “Trust.” Tale of a teenager who falls victim to an online sexual predator reps an admirable attempt to honestly portray a rape and its emotionally complicated aftermath for the victim and her family. But while it steers clear of exploitation, pic never shakes off a grim, medicinal quality or a certain finger-wagging attitude toward the topics it raises, neither one an easy fit with its often ludicrous melodramatic detours. Classy, top-billed duo of Clive Owen and Catherine Keener should earn these “Trust” issues a theatrical airing.
Opening reels sketch a warm portrait of the Camerons, a loving, close-knit family living in the Chicago suburbs, with dad Will (Owen) and mom Lynn (Keener) about to see their firstborn, Peter (Spencer Curnutt) off to college. But the film focuses primarily on pretty 14-year-old middle child Annie (Liana Liberato), specifically her frequent Web chats with Charlie, a 16-year-old she met online. Their conversations are flirty and affectionate, and remain so even when Annie’s new friend admits he’s not as young as he claimed to be.
Convinced she’s in love, Annie agrees to meet Charlie in public, only to find — to her surprise, if not the audience’s — that Charlie is in fact a grown man in his 30s (played by Chris Henry Coffey). Despite her initial shock, Annie eventually swallows Charlie’s earnest apologies and his insistence that age doesn’t matter. What follows is exceedingly icky, as Annie naively follows Charlie back to his hotel room, the camera discreetly zooming in on the (quite hideous) wallpaper as the unspeakable happens.
When a concerned friend reports to school authorities what happened, Annie’s situation becomes a case for the police and eventually the feds, who have been tracking “Charlie” for months. While both her parents are devastated, Will is nearly crippled by grief and rage, devoting all his time to obsessively researching known predators in the area.
Pic’s most complex insights emerge in this father-daughter relationship, Will being unable to cope with his inability to protect his daughter or his unspoken anger that she allowed such a thing to happen. Viewers may well empathize as Annie remains in sullen denial that she was assaulted, and comes to resent both her separation from Charlie and her dad’s disrespect for her privacy — feelings a counselor (the ever-reliable Viola Davis) helps guide her through.
Seen in context with Schwimmer’s directing debut, the wanly likable romantic comedy “Run, Fatboy, Run,” “Trust” suggests a helmer trying, with only intermittent success, to pump new life into stale genres. The actors lend the material what conviction they can, especially Owen, whose clenched, anguished perf culminates in a beautifully played final scene. But Andy Bellin’s script always seems to be walking the characters through therapeutic steps rather than allowing drama to build of its own accord; laughable forays into quasi-thriller territory, such as when Will steals top-secret documents from the FBI, further contaminate the story’s bid for authenticity.
Tech package is indie-rough, Andrzej Sekula’s underlit images presumably intended to create a sense of lived-in naturalism. In a wannabe-au courant touch, Annie and Charlie’s banal chatroom back-and-forth is presented as onscreen text; given the popularity of Skype and other videoconferencing programs, “Trust’s” online cautionary tale already feels behind the curve. Almost all computers and cell phones featured in the film come from Apple, making for some of the least-desirable product placement in recent memory.