Political corruption and intrigue form the backdrop to Trash, an involving action thriller set apart by two things. First, the unusual location – the slums of Rio De Janeiro, dominated by their mountains of litter. Second, the perspective – it’s seen mainly through the eyes of three kids who stumble upon a hotbed of deception that changes their lives forever.
Raphael (Rickson Teves), Gardo (Eduardo Luis) and the delightfully-named Rat (Gabriel Weinstein) earn their meagre living sifting through what society dumps quite literally on their doorstep. But when Raphael discovers an abandoned wallet pitched into a passing garbage truck by man-on-the-run José Angelo, he finds it contains a strange document. Unbeknownst to the boy, Angelo has been apprehended and murdered by the police at the behest of a prominent politician, and with no information extracted the authorities begin combing the trash heaps to recover whatever it is that holds their future in the balance.
Stephen Daldry is the director, which surprises as you don’t normally associate him with this type of movie. Even more eyebrow-raising is Richard Curtis‘s involvement, adapting Andy Mulligan‘s novel. Curtis has a well-developed social conscience but Trash is strong meat for the writer of Love Actually. The viewer needn’t worry as both men do a decent job – they’ve crafted a proper thrill ride, featuring some great chase sequences and moments of pulse-pounding suspense.
They opt to show the children commenting on the majority of the action via a video confessional made later in the movie, hence reassuring us of their safety throughout. This is just as well, as the film doesn’t do things by halves. Like with Slumdog Millionnaire the villains don’t go easy on the protagonists because they’re kids – one sequence in particular where Raphael is tortured by warped cop Gonz (Selton Mello) is very difficult to watch. Overall however the tone is well-judged, balancing pathos with a light touch (these are wayward boys after all), in numerous scenes which leap off the screen.
This is intended to be an entertainment first and foremost, so inevitably the social context fades into the background. For preference I would have liked more detail about the country and indeed the lads themselves as characters. To the filmmakers’ credit it should be noted they hammer home some stark truths in the closing minutes. Some extras about Rio’s upheavals would have been beneficial, but unfortunately the release carries just the film, which is a major missed opportunity. Another minor criticism is you don’t get a thorough understanding of what Angelo was opposing in the first place, beyond a general idea. But there’s certainly enough to go on and the piece has a strong ending, with a showdown in a cemetery as satisfying as anything from a Jason Bourne chapter.
Martin Sheen and Rooney Mara are good as a priest and a nun working in the slums, but really they’re providing support for Daldry’s trio of young actors, who are a triumph and the movie’s main selling point. By parachuting in two American faces the director has managed to realize what is essentially a foreign language film on the scale of a Hollywood outing. He could so easily have had everyone speaking English, but resisted the temptation to his credit.
Whether Trash will live on as a statement about the desperate situation in a little-seen part of the world, or if it’ll wind up as just another title on the DVD shelves remains to be seen. As an involving two hours it succeeds in spades. Its legacy on the other hand has yet to be judged.
This review appeared on The Hollywood News.