As the Internet has become a ubiquitous, integral part of modern life, films about the Internet's dark side, a place of thieves, stalkers and predators, have become their own genre. Into that steps David Schwimmer's film Trust, which appears to be yet another cautionary tale as a 14-year-old high school freshman named Annie, played by real-life 14-year-old Liana Liberato, is groomed, seduced and raped by a man she meets online posing as a teenager named Charlie. But as the title suggests, Trust is about much more than the monsters lurking on the web, and is one of the most honest, impressive films about adolescence and parenting in the Internet age that I've seen.
Annie and her two siblings live in a Chicago suburb with their caring, engaged parents, Will and Lynn, played by Oscar nominees Clive Owen and Katherine Keener. But Annie, a gangly but happy volleyball player, is entering the minefield of high school, where her confidence is quickly shaken as she learns that popularity means sex and sex appeal, two things she knows little about.
This makes her a perfect target for Charlie, who meets Annie in a volleyball chatroom, winning her over by praising her beauty and the specialness of their bond. The film does an excellent job portraying the giddy excitement of an Internet-born romance, as well as the fact that pocket-sized computers have allowed communication to be nearly constant.
Annie is shocked when she finally meets Charlie face to face and sees that he's in his 30s, but Charlie has groomed her so thoroughly that he's easily able to allay her fears and lure her to his hotel room. But for Annie, the real nightmare comes when her relationship with Charlie is exposed. She's pulled from school, the FBI is called in, and the most intimate secrets of her adolescence are revealed to her parents and strangers involved in the investigation, including a therapist played by Oscar nominee Viola Davis and an FBI agent played by Doug Tate. Here we get more insight into the grooming process, as Annie defends Charlie, denies that she was raped, and insists that their relationship could still work.
All of this is particularly difficult for Will, who is horrified to read the explicit communications between Annie and Charlie and can't understand why she kept Charlie's age a secret and willingly went to his hotel room. Will, a marketing executive working on a sexy American Apparel-type ad campaign filled with young-looking, scantily-clad models, also can't help feeling somewhat responsible.
To exorcise his feelings of anger, helplessness and confusion, Will turns to, of course, the Internet, where he becomes obsessed with sex offender websites and vigilante groups, betraying Annie's trust to get more information on Charlie so he can hunt him down and deal with him.
The acting in Trust is excellent, especially Liberato, an amazing young talent who should have True Grit's Hailee Steinfeld looking over her shoulder. Perhaps my only complaint is the cinematography, which looks like the work of someone a year out of film school.
While the film's ad campaign focuses on the online predator angle, Trust is much more about the challenges of being a teenager and the parents of teenagers in our modern world, where the Internet and sexual messages are omnipresent and can cause kids to want to grow up before they or their parents are prepared. The somewhat unsettling but totally honest message is that parents, despite their best efforts, won't always be able to protect their kids from every danger, especially with new modes of communication that allow kids to live double lives right under their parents' noses. But in reality, that's always been the case, and what's more important is how we treat each other, and trust each other, should disaster strike.
Watch the trailer for Trust below.
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