Finally! For his entire career so far, filmmaker Stephen Daldry has basically followed the same playbook time and time again. To some, including members of the Academy, that’s been a recipe for success, but I’ve been waiting for him to try something new. Well, in the case of Trash, we have Daldry really attempting something different than usual, with mostly strong results. A genre mash up that mixes crime drama, action, and even some comedy into a flick that’s closer to Slumdog Millionaire than The Hours, Daldry might not be making an overt Oscar contender (his Best Picture nomination streak is coming to an end), but he’s making what I feel is his best work yet. Trash is a crowd pleaser as much as anything, which is perhaps surprising considering how often Daldry goes for tearjerker type tales instead, but he’s looking to entertain here. Though in some ways it does follow the typical Daldry structure in starting out and ending very strong but losing focus at times in the middle, this is his first film for me that’s an out and out success, with part of that perhaps being do to the screenplay by filmmaker in his own right Richard Curtis. Your mileage with him may vary, of course, but regardless of where you stand previously on Daldry, this should be enjoyable. Trash won’t wind up contending heavily for Academy Award nominations, but it shows that Daldry is a filmmaker with some new tricks up his sleeve, and sometimes that’s even more important.
The film begins by more or less dropping us right into the action. We see Jose Angelo (Wagner Moura) panicking for some reason and then being pursued by cops. It’s during a subsequent chase by police after the raid that things begin to make sense. He’s about to be captured and in fact is apprehended just after tossing a wallet into a garbage truck that’s passing by. Jose is pretty quickly tortured and killed by the corrupt cops of the town because of this, but after this jarring start we meet our protagonists Raphael (Rickson Tevis) and Gardo (Eduardo Luis), residents of a small village run by Father Julliard (Martin Sheen), who is the only English speaking presence in their lives, aside from an American teacher named Olivia (Rooney Mara). While rummaging around in the dump one day, the two come across the wallet, initially just pleased with the money inside. It’s not until a police officer comes offering a reward for the wallet that suspicions are raised, especially about some of the other items inside it, like a key. The kids recruit Rato (Gabriel Weinstein) to join them in trying to figure out what the key unlocks. They think they’re on to something important, which is only confirmed when corrupt cop Frederico (Selton Mello) begins pursuing them. From there, the adventure continues, threatening the boys but also potentially allowing them to do some real good in the world.
Despite the prominent billing of Rooney Mara and Martin Sheen, the film is really put on the shoulders of Eduardo Luis and Rickson Tevia. Mara is under used as an idealistic teacher in a foreign land, though she’s solid enough. More time with her might have helped, but she’s just not the focus of the plot. Sheen is a welcome presence whenever he’s in a movie, and this is no exception. He steals his scenes and helps to underscore a theme about idealism vs world weariness, but this is definitely a small part in the grand scheme of things. Luis and especially Tevia carry the picture, with Gabriel Weinstein coming in after the first act and becoming a co-lead. The boys are all likable and effective in their roles, if not doing anything that will really blow your mind. Other cast members, in addition to the aforementioned Selton Mello and Wagner Moura include Stepan Nercessian, André Ramiro, Nelson Xavier, and more. Mara and Sheen are who you’ll recognize, but Luis, Tevia, and Weinstein are who you’ll remember.
Stephen Daldry has an admirable commitment to essentially making a foreign film here, as his acting coach on the set Christian Duurvoort is given co-director credit, while Curtis’ script is also crediting Felipe Braga, who turned the written dialogue into Portuguese for the cast. These small choices wind up mattering, as Curtis and Daldry get the help necessary to form a cohesive and effective team. Daldry still doesn’t have the best handle on pace, but Trash is the best example yet of the good in his movies outweighing the bad.
When you get right down to it, Trash is a small flick meant to be simply enjoyed. It has its serious moments, its funny ones, and its exciting ones, but the whole product is a crowd pleaser on the whole. If you approach the work like that, you’ll probably enjoy it best. Daldry fans might be surprised with what they find…hopefully in a good way. I can only say that as a Daldry doubter, I was impressed. Trash isn’t the best movie of the year by any stretch, but it’s well done and definitely worth checking out. I can recommend this one with ease.
–Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!