|Liana Liberato and Catherine Keener in Trust|
It is an unbearable cliche to say that this is a parent's worst nightmare. A cliche but true nonetheless. This film is a sensitively done portrayal of a pedophile's on-line seduction of a 14 year old Chicago girl. The screenwriters were careful not to tie things up too neatly at the end which does not avoid the reality of these disturbing and all too often tragedies. There are few angels here and quite a few conflicted and tormented souls.
Will and Lynn Cameron (Clive Owen and Catherine Keener), smart, loving and involved parents of three children, gradually learn that their fourteen-year-old daughter, Annie (Liana Liberato), has made a new friend on-line – supposedly a very attractive, sixteen-year-old blond boy named Charlie who lives in California and loves volleyball as much as Annie does. This raises no red flags. The whole family treats the relationship like a charming but innocuous aspect of Annie's on-line life.
In reality, "Charlie" (Chris Henry Coffey) is a forty-year-old serial pedophile who lures Annie to a mall, then a motel, rapes her then disappears from her life both in real life and on-line. Annie's seduction is slow and realistically portrayed even when Annie is told by Charlie that he is in reality 20 then 25. Annie is angry and suspicious in their telephone conversations but is eventually wooed back by Charlie's charm before their fateful meeting at the mall when she sees, with considerable shock, that he is actually 40.
The details of the assault are not (thankfully) graphic but elicits a terrible emotional response from the audience - the tension was palpable - as all of the actors are utterly convincing particularly the young Liberato.
Annie appears almost shell-shocked by the experience, going through the paces of a police investigation, medical procedures, FBI questioning and psychological counseling with a numb facade which belies the real horror and sense of ruin she comes to feel. She is by turns sullen, delusional about Charlie's "true" love for her, frightened, petulant towards her parents and the FBI agent who is working on her case and horrified at what has transpired.
The film is as much about Will's emotional disintegration as it is about how Annie deals with the aftermath of the rape. Will is tormented by imagined images of Annie being violated and becomes even more so when he reads the FBI's transcripts of telephone conversations between the two which Will has stolen. Will becomes obsessed with the dialogue between the two, hysterically claiming to wife Lynn that Annie is talking like a "porn actress" in the transcripts.
I was impressed with how the script clearly links Will's job in advertising as the creator of a campaign for a popular but sleazy clothing line called Academic Apparel (with a clear nod to American Apparel). In one particularly affecting scene, Will hallucinates that he sees a large blown up photo of Annie, semi-clad, in one of the monstrous ads he has created for the clothing company. He nearly passes out from the anxiety this induces in him. In the film, Will is complicit in the creation of a hyper-sexualized environment which promotes and exploits teenage sexuality. The on-line predator that attacks his daughter is just one manifestation of this.
Will lashes out unable to purge his mind of the images, trailing suspected predators, attacking men whom he thinks have designs on young girls. He seemingly cannot entirely exculpate Annie against whom he harbors a not so secret anger for falling into the pedophile's trap.
In a deft touch, the true identity of the pedophile is revealed at the end of the film through a home movie taken by the man's young son: "Charlie" is an attractive, charming married man who teaches physics at a highschool with a lovely wife and a son. The banality of evil is like a stab into one's solar plexus.
Time to cut the director David Schwimmer some slack for his commercial success as one of the six "Friends" which made such an impact on television back in the 1990s. The series brought success, wealth and popularity but also created a sort of golden cage from which all six actors have struggled to escape. Let him out, he has done a credible job here on a difficult and upsetting issue.