For most people, the biggest hazard the Internet poses is that it's as easy to click on wrong information as it is the right stuff. But for adolescents and teens trying to discover who they are, every chat room and comment board poses as much of a risk as walking alone through an alley at night. For them, it can be dangerous and even deadly to stumble upon the wrong information . . . like encountering a simpatico "teen" who seems to understand you when at school you're not cool and at home parents are a drone. Only everything that "teen" says is a lie. Instead of a soul mate or kindred spirit, he turns out to be an adult . . . and a sexual predator.
"Trust" tells the story of a 14-year-old girl (Liana Liberato) whose happy life revolves around family and volleyball until she trusts the wrong person she meets on the Internet--someone named Charlie (Chris Henry Coffey), who says he's a 15-year-old high school volleyballer living in California. Advice he gives her helps her land a spot on the team, and that helps him get a foot in her door. Soon he's telling her she's pretty when she looks in the mirror and sees plain, and he says she's the cool one, when at her Chicago-area school she's feeling insecure and marginalized. He jokes about not being able to chat because, like hers, his parents are looking over his shoulder. And when she tells him about a bra that she bought that her mother made her return, the door opens wider. Soon they're not just chatting, they're texting each other, and that escalates to phone conversations, with Charlie telling asking for a photo and telling her that he's in love with her because they really "get" each other. He sends pictures of a teenage boy. Soon they're talking about wanting to meet, wanting to kiss. They have phone sex, and at just the right increments he tells her his "real" age, texting that he wasn't honest about his age because he didn't know if she was mature enough to accept their age difference.
It's how sexual predators work. According to a 2009 news story, in 2008 there were 8,787 reports of online enticement received by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children's cyber tip line. There were 3000 arrests nationwide that same year, but the disparity in numbers is sad proof that many of these creeps don't get caught. Charlie (Chris Henry Coffey) is what the Justice Department refers to as a "traveler"--someone who gains the confidence of a youth and travels to meet them and lure them into a setting that's conducive to having non-consensual sex with a minor.
No wonder Annie's father, Will (Clive Owen) wants to kill the man when he finds out, and no wonder the normal, playful, sexual relationship he had with his wife--Annie's mom (Catherine Keener)--comes to a screeching halt. Suddenly trust becomes an issue between them as well, as it is between Annie and her best friend (Zoe Levin).
This drama from David Schwimmer (who played Ross on "Friends") aims for realistic depiction rather than the typical Hollywood thriller format that this could have turned into, especially after FBI agents get involved. Annie may be a fictional character, but you know there are thousands of girls (and boys) out there who have been victimized by an Internet predator. This is real, and throughout the film you get the sense that "Trust" is intended as a dramatic and traumatic PSA that might alert parents and teens to the dangers that are out there, while giving them some sense of how sexual predators work. Even the ending is realistic rather than a Hollywood formula, and that's refreshing.
So is Liberato as Annie, who handles the wide range of emotions her part demands, as well as the transition from happy-go-lucky teen to traumatized victim. It's more complicated than that, though, and she nails it. So do Owen and Keener, and Viola Davis does a nice job with a role that could have seemed clichéd--the psychologist who tries to help Annie. Like a good novel or short story, "Trust" not only invites you to consider all the ways in which the title applies to the characters and their relationships. It also resonates with issues--the ways in which sex permeates our culture, for example, or how boys and girls are sometimes treated differently when it comes to conversations about sexual behavior. Why victims behave as they do is also explored. There are no easy answers here, and there's no preaching--just a complex presentation of complex subject matter, with superb acting and direction. And the text messaging we see on the screen throughout the film is an effective stylistic device for helping us feel the impact of this not-so-brave new cyberworld that exists, now, like an alternate universe.
Though "Trust" is rated R for "disturbing material involving the rape of a teen, language, sexual content and some violence," the rape scene is handled discretely and sensitively. It's a film that every parent and teenager ought to see, separately or together. In addition to alerting them to a real danger, it might help them all see things differently and understand how parents and children so close to each other can suddenly, quickly become estranged during the teenage years.
The picture quality on this film varies slightly from sequence to sequence, with some scenes looking a little softer and without the same strong edge delineation as scenes that feature more pop-out depth. I looked for a pattern to see if this might have been a deliberate choice, but couldn't really tell. Some shots after the trauma are just as bright and full-hued as happier shots. If anything, interiors seem to have more visual consistency, and I suspect that's part of indie filmmaking. "Trust" is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. It comes to 25GB Blu-ray via the standard AVC/MPEG-4 transfer, which had no artifacts or problems that I could detect. Call it a solid but not scintillating picture.
"Trust" features all dialogue, some music, and no special effects, so it's a little hard to rate the English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio. Apart from a few sequences where the music courses through the effects speakers and subwoofer, it's a low-key film, sonically speaking. Is the dialogue crisp and clear? Yes. But that's about all you can say for a soundtrack like this. Subtitles are in English SDH and Spanish.
Apart from previews and nine outtakes, the only extra is "Between the Lines," a 17-minute making-of featurette that features Schwimmer talking about the truth of the film and the real-life bases for "Trust." Is it worth watching? You bet.
"Trust" is only the second theatrical release directed by Schwimmer, whose "Run, Fatboy, Run" (2007) was a romantic comedy. This is The One Where Schwimmer Debuts As a Serious Filmmaker . . . and he tells a compelling, authentic story.