David Schwimmer, who directed the comedy “Run, Fatboy, Run” in 2007 with Simon Pegg comes at us hard with his second feature film as a director, the intensely riveting “Trust,” the story of a 14-year-old girl who is seduced by an online adult male predator and what happens to the girl and her entire family afterwards.
Liana Liberato, a lovely 15-year-old actress from Texas, who was present for the first screening of the film in the U.S. in Chicago on Saturday, October 16th, portrays Annie Cameron. Liana turns in a totally convincing portrait of a modern-day American teenager living in an upper-middle class Chicago suburb (Winnetka), who is seduced and betrayed by an adult pedophile.
Clive Owen and Catharine Keener portray Annie’s parents. Owen, in particular, as her anguished father, turns in an Oscar-worthy performance, especially in the movie’s final scene by the swimming pool. The film, which is adapted from a Lookingglass play (Schwimmer is a founder of the Lookingglass Theater), has William Cameron (Annie’s father) saying, “I can’t stop thinking about it. I’m angry that I didn’t know what was going on. I’m angry that Annie lied to me. I’m angry that I didn’t know the extent of her intimacy with him online.”
Catharine Keener, as Annie’s mom, tells her husband, “The only thing we can do is that, when we do fall down, we can be here to pick each other up.” But Clive Owen’s tortured father William Cameron goes through a series of emotional changes that see him displacing his aggression onto an innocent man at a volleyball game (albeit a man who is a registered sex offender in the neighborhood, but was not Annie’s attacker.) Trouble brews between husband and wife when Keener tells Owen, “It’s just destroyed her. She’s in pain. She needs you, and you’re sitting there doing nothing.”
The film uses typed images of the instant messages between Annie (Volleygirl13) and her online boyfriend (CharliefromCA) onscreen throughout.
When asked in the Q&A following the film if it was difficult to portray Annie when all she was shown doing at times was typing on a computer screen, Liana said, “Half of the time I had someone read the lines offscreen to me. It wasn’t that big a deal.” Scripted by Andy Bellin and Robert Festinger, the attitudes and lingo of the tween market that William Cameron markets as an advertising agency executive is captured by the dialogue and the use of online abbreviations like “LOL” and “PWOMS” (Parents Watching Over My Shoulder.”)
At first, Annie is in denial about what has happened to her. When she finally meets “Charlie” at a local mall, he is not a boy at all, but a grown man who brings her red lingerie and takes her to a motel. The adult lays on all the flattery that he knows will work, as he has done this at least three times previously: “You’re gorgeous. You’re perfect. It’s okay, don’t worry — You amaze me. You’re so intelligent and sensitive — wise beyond your years.” Meanwhile, he is secretly filming the entire sexual encounter.
At first, after Annie’s best friend Brittany tells the authorities what has happened, Annie clings to the viewpoint that she was “special” and that “Charlie” loved her. (“Two months of talking. I don’t know why age has to change that,” he tells her.) She defiantly tells her parents, “What’s the big deal? There are girls at my school who’ve had sex with half the football team, but I lose my virginity and my parents make a federal case of it — literally.” She adds, “Charlie’s not judgmental. He’s encouraging. He thinks I’m beautiful. When you find that soul mate, that’s the only thing to think about. He loves me. I know he does.”
The FBI man assigned to the case, Doug Tate, is portrayed by actor Jason Clarke, who was “Red” in Johnny Depp’s film “Public Enemy” and played Tommy Cafferty in the “Sopranos-like” drama “The Brotherhood” set in Providence. Tate has his work cut out for him as the perpetrator is a pro and has used a ghost program to bounce and conceal the computer signal. The statistic given in the film is that, in Illinois alone, there are 2,000 cases waiting to be solved.
It is only when the FBI discovers through the use of DNA evidence and a DNA databank that the criminal has done this to at least three other girls before her that Annie reluctantly comes to the agonized realization that, “He told me I was special. He lied to me so he could have sex with me. He raped me. How could I have been so stupid? God, I’m so sorry.” She also says to her father, “There’s nothing anyone can say. My life is ruined. Nothing is ever gonna’ be the same. You’re not the laughingstock of New Trier High School (Winnetka, IL); I am.”
Annie is driven to the edge of reason by pranksters who put up insulting Internet posts and by the embarrassment of the police leading her out of her high school to interrogate her and secure forensic evidence. She is initially furious with her best friend for ratting her out (“Best friends don’t narc on each other”), just one of many incidents she considers a betrayal of trust and a justification for the film’s title.
We see Anna in counseling sessions with Viola Davis, telling the counselor, “It was kind of weird, you know. Like it wasn’t really happening to me. Like I was watching it from above.” Psychological distancing as a form of self-protection is used by many rape victims or victims of sexual molestation.
The young actress who portrayed Annie, Liana Liberato, described listening to tapes of sexual abuse victims, as Schwimmer is an active director of the Rape Treatment Center in Santa Monica. She also read clippings and articles to prepare for the part, but, when asked, said she did not know anyone personally to whom this particular form of online seduction had occurred, although, “I’ve even learned to be more cautious (online).” Asked about Schwimmer’s directorial style, she described him as “Great. A very dear friend of mine.”
Liana told the audience at this, the film’s United States premiere in Chicago that she had been acting since she was 3 and turned professional at age 9. She started with theater parts. Said the composed young actress, “I’m always looking for challenging material, and so I was very glad to get the part. I’ve had parts before, but none this challenging, so this was nice.” Liana said that shooting took 2 months. As to what happens next to Annie Cameron, Liana said, “I see it as two things. Either, what else could go wrong? Or, I’ve already hit bottom and I’ve nowhere to go but up.”
Liana Liberato will co-star next in a Joel Schumacher film opposite Nicolas Cage. She has a bright future in films and Schwimmer—who had already proven himself adept at comic directing and acting (who can forget Ross on “Friends”?)— has done a truly remarkable job with “Trust.”