In 2011, we are so used to relationships blossoming through the internet and various social channels that it takes awhile into “Trust” to foresee the danger lurking. Directed by David Schwimmer, the triggering thriller manages to avoid the easy pitfalls of what could resemble an afterschool special and brings depth to the uneasy subject matter of sexual predators, internet safety and parental protection.
Annie is your typical teenager: worried about boys, grades and most importantly scoring a spot on the school’s volleyball team. In a breakout performance from Liana Liberto, Annie takes her search for advice and acceptance to a volleyball chat room, a place where she can post questions about the game and receive instant feedback. It’s here where she meets the too-good-to-be-true Charlie, a high school senior who seems all too available to lavish Annie with praise and attention at nearly all times of the day. Thanks to the computer her parents Will and Lynn, artfully portrayed by Clive Owen and Catherine Keener, purchased for her birthday, Annie begins to separate herself from her seemingly perfect real life, and most importantly her family and friends.
As the truth about Charlie, mainly his age, begins to be exposed, Annie becomes more and more infatuated with the man on the other side of the computer. Her isolation from friends allows the predatory tactics of Charlie to take hold and a real life meeting between the “soulmates” while her parents are dropping off her older brother at college turns ugly. Even after Annie finds out Charlie (Chris Henry Coffey) is in fact a middle aged man, she still trusts her online friend, whose pointers helped her join the volleyball team. Charlie doesn’t need to do a lot to coerce Annie back to a hotel room and what follows is a graphic sexual encounter which is jarring and terrifying to experience. Charlie disappears after the encounter, leaving Annie confused, angry and heartbroken. Her best friend alerts a school counselor about the incident after questioning Annie and the rape becomes high school gossip fodder and an FBI case.
Annie fights the notion that she is in fact a victim and not a willing participant to her brokenhearted parents, the FBI agent (Jason Clarke) tasked with the case and the crisis counselor (Viola Davis), who are all trying to support her. Annie wonders why her encounter was so illicit to the adults around her when most of her peers are engaged in similar activities on a regular basis. Slowly Annie realizes what transpired within a tacky motel room was not what she thought it was and falls fast into an even more destructive depressed state. At the same time, Will (Owen) becomes maddened by the incident, more hell bent on seeking revenge on Charlie then counseling his broken daughter and is taken to task by Lynn (Keener) for his clear avoidance of the real situation in front of them.
What‘s interesting about the film is the juxtaposition of the wrongness of Annie being wooed by a much older man online and her father’s career as an ad executive. We see Will surrounded by images much like the borderline porn American Apparel ads, his coworkers hitting on much younger waitresses and are forced to wonder why one situation is overtly wrong and the other is just everyday America? In a powerful moment when Will is admitting Annie’s rape to his friend, we are forced to acknowledge that there is still conflict within today’s understanding of sexual assault and that not all attacks are brutal. The questions brought up by “Trust” go beyond the mere mechanics of online sexual predators, exploring the ripple effect on our culture as a whole that our inconsistent attitudes towards women and sexuality have.
Written by Andy Bellin and Robert Festinger, “Trust” is more than just a warning call to parents everywhere to pay attention. It looks beyond our standard understanding of contemporary social relationships, asking what it really means to protect our loved ones. And while the story doesn’t seem a typical project for Schwimmer, the director credits his volunteer efforts at the Santa Monica Rape Crisis Center as the major force behind tackling the all too familiar story. The film is honest with its layered performances, and sadly ends with little resolution. Will Annie and her family survive? Will Charlie strike again? Schwimmer keeps us thinking about these questions and the many similar stories like “Trust” long after the credits roll. [B]