You hear the word "predator" and you think of a sudden, vicious attack.
But the sexual predator in David Schwimmer's thoughtful, disturbing Trust is slow-moving and insinuating. He builds the confidence of his quarry, even as the warning signs seemingly shout, "Watch this guy."
He's an Internet stalker and his quarry is a 15-year-old girl, Annie (Liana Liberato). And, in Schwimmer's unsettling film, she's ripe for his advances, unprotected because she's at an age where she thinks she's much more worldly than she is -- and she's unwilling to confide in her parents about something that seems uniquely her own.
In the script by Andy Bellin and Robert Festinger, Annie is a normal teen, an athlete whose parents are focused on her older brother's imminent departure for college. She's not at odds with them -- but she feels a little ignored. That can translate as misunderstood, when parents assume all is OK with her just because she's not giving evidence of obvious problems.
Her one confidante is an online chat buddy named Charlie, someone who is as interested in volleyball as she is and who is understanding and available when her parents are preoccupied. Certainly there are warning signs -- but even when he admits that he's in college, not high school, what difference do a couple of years make?
He keeps revising upwards, however, prefacing each confession with, "Please don't hate me." He's actually a grad student, he later admits -- but then points to the amazing connection they have, how well he understands her, and she him. When her parents leave her on her own while they take her brother to college, she thinks nothing of agreeing to a meet-up at a local mall.
When Charlie (Chris Henry Coffey) turns out to be a 35-year-old instead of a grad student, she's close to bolting. This is distinctly weird and her defensive radar is buzzing. But he's so charming and understanding -- as he points out, he's still the same guy she's been chatting with for months, the one who "gets" her. And he does get her -- into his hotel room and then his bed.
What follows is a growing drama of frustration and rage: between parents (Clive Owen, Catherine Keener) and daughter, between parents and the FBI, between parent and parent. It is the father who seems to feel it the most -- the sense of failure at not protecting his daughter from something he's convinced he should have been able to prevent.
Schwimmer's film points no fingers (other than at the predator himself, a creepy, bland nobody). The writers work an FBI agent (Jason Clarke) into the story, someone whose specialty is chasing these Internet sex criminals and who knows how difficult it is to actually track them down. Part of that is the sophistication of technology at the predators' disposal; part is the shame and unwillingness of the victims to believe that they've been duped. Even Annie at first refuses to help because she's convinced that the predator does, in fact, love her.
But it's a thought-provoking film that manages to incorporate horrifying information without feeling like an after-school special. Instead, Schwimmer achieves a sense of tragedy, of lives ripped asunder by one sick individual's appetites. These lives do go on -- but they will never quite be the same.
Owen is solid -- anguished, tortured and loving -- as the father, while Keener brings a warmth and anger to the mother. Liberato is perfect as the victim, a naive teen who steps into life's deep end before she's really learned to swim.
Will she be damaged for life? Will this predator eventually be brought to justice? Schwimmer doesn't offer easy answers -- which is what makes Trust such an upsetting film