A revenge drama minus the revenge, the David Schwimmer-directed Trust portrays the impotent rage of wanting to right a wrong that has no legal recourse. The claustrophobic film offers a strange anti-catharsis; it’s all tension and frustration with no crowd-pleasing release. With a little tweaking, this easily could have veered into grindhouse exploitation or mindless wish-fulfillment, but Schwimmer’s detached, theatrical approach to his material makes it is more cerebral than visceral, and more Steppenwolf Theatre than Charles Bronson.
In an impressive lead performance, the alternately girlish and casually precocious Liana Liberato stars as a 14-year-old who strikes up an online flirtation with someone she imagines is a slightly older boy. The mystery flirter’s age keeps moving skyward the longer they communicate until he finally reveals himself to be a middle-aged man once they meet in the flesh. When Liberato loses her virginity to the man, her father (Clive Owen) is filled with rage, but since the sexual predator’s true identity remains a mystery to the police and even to Liberato herself, he’s left with nowhere to focus the fury that begins to consume him.
Andy Bellin and Robert Festinger’s screenplay gradually shifts perspective from Liberato—the film’s focus until she consummates her queasy flirtation—to Owen, whose feverish attempts to track down the identity of the predator and bring him to justice dominate the second half. Trust is primarily concerned with the collateral emotional damage created by crises like these, particularly the strain placed on Owen and Liberato’s relationship and the way it forces Owen to see his daughter as a sexual being before he’s ready. But Trust’s intriguing moral ambiguity comes at the expense of conventional emotional resonance. The film purposefully withholds the rewards of the genre but offers nothing to replace them; it ends up feeling cryptic and opaque rather than genuinely complex.