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New Release Review - Trash

Three Rio favela kids unwittingly find themselves in possession of the key to uncovering government corruption.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Stephen Daldry

Starring: Rooney Mara, Martin Sheen, Wagner Moura, Rickson Tevez, Selton Mello



The presence of Hollywood stars Rooney Mara and Martin Sheen in this Rio set drama triggers fears that we're in for yet another story of white people saving brown people. Thankfully that's not the case, as the local heroes are largely left to fend for themselves, but that's really the only commendable point in this misjudged and confused Brazilian-British coproduction from director Stephen Daldry, who does here for South American poverty what he did for 9/11 in his previous film, the distasteful Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. Once more Daldry gives us a trivial treatment of a rancid reality.
While scouring a massive garbage dump on the outskirts of Rio, 14-year-old street kid Raphael (Tevez, making his film debut) comes across a discarded wallet containing a key and several other seemingly innocent items. The wallet, however, was hastily thrown away by a would be whistle-blower (played by Mark Ruffalo lookalike Wagner Moura) who uncovered evidence of government corruption, much of it concerning the staging of last year's World Cup. Several important people are desperate to retrieve the wallet's contents, and Raphael and friends find themselves hunted by a ruthless corrupt cop (you can tell he's a wrong 'un because he listens to classical music) played by Eric Bana lookalike Selton Mello.
The chic squalor of Slumdog Millionaire is transferred to the slums of Rio, and in the hands of Daldry, poverty looks like a package holiday. The favela neighbourhood of the film's protagonists resembles a summer camp, its cutesy design lying somewhere between the shire and the Ewok village. The young central characters have more in common with The Goonies than City of God, hanging out in their own man-cave in a sewer, complete with fully functioning arcade games. Even when Raphael takes a beating that leaves his face looking like a Philly cheese steak, his bruises miraculously disappear once he awakens the following morning. The young stars may have been plucked from the streets, but the simplified sheen of the movie makes them more kids from Fame than kids from favelas.
Richard Curtis's script, adapted from Andy Mulligan's novel, makes several amateurish storytelling mistakes and takes far too many narrative shortcuts. The film opens with a flash-forward to the story's end, which sucks all possible tension from the remainder of the movie, as we know Raphael is in no danger, having been treated to the site of him alive and well at a narrative point we've yet to reach. There's also the cheap device of Raphael and friends narrating the story through video footage filmed by Mara's character, which also means we know all three of the kids are in no danger throughout.
It's difficult to figure out the audience Daldry and Curtis are aiming for here; Trash is too grimy for kids and too glossy for grown-ups. Adults will find the Children's Film Foundation approach irritating, and it's difficult to imagine kids sitting through a subtitled movie that their parents are highly unlikely to take them to in the first place.
It takes balls of steel to title your movie Trash, and in this case it's an all too apt description of the film's content.




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