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Director: David Schwimmer
Writers: Andy Bellin, Robert Festinger
Cinematographer: Andrzej Sekula
Stars: Clive Owen, Catherine Keener, Liana Liberato
Studio: Millennium Entertainment

The cast of Friends have obtained varying levels of success since the insanely popular ‘90s sitcom ended almost a decade ago. Not that this really matters, of course, considering the cash each actor was making per show by the end of its run. Still, some have pursued film careers, some have tried to forge new paths in TV, and one has moved behind the camera. David Schwimmer’s new film, Trust, finds him drifting far away from comedy to tackle some serious subject matter—a teenage girl is seduced and raped by an online predator and she and her family must deal with the aftermath. Fortunately, Schwimmer has recruited a capable and talented cast for the film. Unfortunately, the dialogue and scenarios, written by Andy Bellin making his screenwriting debut, are often that of a high-budget, high-brow TV movie.

Trust is certainly a product of our modern era, one in which children are social networking and using technology in ways that adults could never have dreamed of a decade ago. This also means that kids are growing up with unfiltered and immediate access to the potentially harmful aspects of the Internet. It’s not necessarily that kids are growing up faster these days, but they are being exposed to grown-up material at an earlier age. It’s debatable how much damage online porn has on kids—it’s more hardcore, but not all that different from pre-teens in the ‘60s stashing Playboy magazines under their beds. But anonymous predators on the other end of today’s speedy bandwidth is entirely another matter.

Movies like Hard Candy, The Social Network, and even, arguably, Death Wish are precursors to Trust in their own ways, but Schwimmer does away with any edginess in favor of more of a straightforward cautionary tale. Annie, played by Liana Liberato, is 14 years old, a member of her junior high volleyball team, and constantly on her laptop or iPhone. Her parents, Will and Lynn, played Clive Owen and Catherine Keener, give her a new MacBook for her birthday, and she’s thrilled. Schwimmer employs an effective mechanism to show Annie’s casual obsessiveness, scrolling her text and instant messages along the bottom of the screen as mundane family scenarios play out. While her parents remain unaware and unconcerned, Annie meets Charlie online, played by Chris Henry Coffey, who claims to be just a few years older than her. They soon develop a fantasy relationship that becomes uncomfortably sexual in nature, and when Annie’s parents go away for the weekend to see her brother off to college, they meet at the local mall. She’s shocked at first to see that he’s actually old enough to be her father, but he manipulates her into coming back to his hotel room where he proceeds to rape her. The scene is incredibly uncomfortable as Schwimmer’s camera doesn’t shy away from the reality of what is happening, though it’s not gratuitous.

Schwimmer is a member of the Board of Directors of the Rape Foundation in Santa Monica, CA, so Trust deals with an issue he clearly knows and cares about. But it’s ultimately a film about its titular concept as well as rape. Annie initially denies that a sexual assault occurred, claiming that even though he has cut off contact, Charlie loves her and she loves him. She tells her father, “It wasn’t like that” when he imagines a violent rape dripping with sleaze and bodily fluids. Will has become a man obsessed. He works at an ad firm whose major client is an American Apparel analog that uses teen soft porn imagery in its advertising. He’s consumed with finding the perpetrator of this crime against his daughter, going so far as to pose as a teen girl in a chat room in the middle of the night, and fantasizes about violently punishing Charlie or any other sex offender. When he steals the transcripts of Annie and Charlie’s IM conversations from the FBI agent assigned to the case (Jason Clarke), he’s shocked to see how Annie willingly engaged in some pretty graphic sex talk. But that’s the problem—there was really nothing “willing” about this. Annie is the victim of a traumatic breach in trust, and the film shows how Will’s rage and desire for vengeance blinds him to this, creating a deep rift between father and daughter.

Schwimmer does a good job in showing the small ways in which a benign and affluent domestic existence can be disrupted by an event like this, allowing Keener and Owen to simmer and boil over without becoming caricatures of emotion. And Liana Liberato is clearly a young actress with the depth and range required to tackle a role that calls for both. But the handling of this story often feels like it would be better suited for ABC Family Channel than the world of indie film. Schwimmer has been given the opportunity to delve into the demons of anger, blame, and sorrow that a family trauma unleashes, and while he comes close to exploring these, the formulaic nature of the storytelling does not do justice to the opportunities of the medium at hand.