Review: Trash (Stephen Daldry – 2015)

The filming of Stephen Daldry’s Trash took place at a time when Brazil was in uprising. In the run up to the World Cup the astronomical amount spent on hosting the tournament and the drastic void in class that separates rich and poor sparked riots. And rightly so.What could have been achieved with the vast public funds that went into building stadiums rather than houses (as also was the case for South Africa) in the spiritual home of football will never be known but the re-distribution of wealth that is warranted does not go unremarked in the film.

During the disturbances the difference between a protester and those deemed anarchists was a fine line; essentially a question of how far you were willing to go for your desired ends. The same can be said for each side of the story that Daldry paints with the colour, dynamism and substance that you would expect for a film whose backdrop is such a hostile, unjust, but at the same time vibrant, environment. City of God director Fernando Meireilles was consulted for Trash and echoes of his hard-hitting masterpiece are felt throughout. In introducing his film, Daldry emphasised the importance of humour, justice and God. The setting of writer Andy Mulligan’s source novel was unspecified but the rich fabric of Rio’s favellas provides an ideal background for the film’s thematic intentions.

One of three boys, all of whom work on a landfill site, finds a wallet that contains money, but more interestingly an identity card, a photobook of a young girl, a key and a lottery ticket. Such is the inquisitive nature of young Raphael that he shares the money but is intrigued by the wallet’s remaining contents. Its former owner, Jose Angelo (Wagner Moura), right-hand man of crooked congressman and mayoral hopeful Santos, concealed these clues to bring down a corrupt empire of bribery and extortion. With an unbridled and unerring sense of what is right, Raphael, Gardo and Rat embark on a dangerous mission of discovery.

Film posters will show Martin Sheen and Rooney Mara as the big names in this film but it is the three boys who are its stars. Daldry made it clear that Trash belongs to them; it is their actions that drive it forward and their soul that instills it with such heart.

That is not to say that the Hollywood actors put in a bad turn. Sheen’s performance as Father Juilliard shows a deeply principled, benevolent man but one that is world-weary and likes a drink or two more than he should. Mara as Olivia, a young aid worker doing her bit for impoverished kids, is wide-eyed and disbelieving when affronted by the reality of life in the slums but her genuine goodwill benefits the boys immeasurably.

The problem for the Americans is that they find themselves a long way from Kansas, unable to truly grasp the linguistic and cultural nuances, learned experience and torment of their charges. This will apply to the great majority of those who see the film but in no way is it alienating. Its themes, on the one hand injustice, brutality and greed, and the other friendship, teamwork and determination, are universal and in Daldry’c capable hands do not feel contrived at all. Sheen and Mara are adequate support acts but it is testament to them and the film itself that they allow Raphael, Gardo and Rato to do the talking. And talk a lot the young men do.

It is thanks to the three boys (Rickson Tevez/Raphael, Eduardo Luis/Gardo, and Gabriel Weinstein/Rato) that the film is so engaging. The free-wheeling energy and naturalism of their performances is a delight from first to last. Daldry’s employment of direct address at key moments draws us closer still to the likeable rogues. The boys had never been to a cinema before let alone acted and as a result a lot of the dialogue was improvised. Their chemistry and quick repartee feels immediate, genuine and entirely non-scripted. Indeed, when screened at the Brazil Film Festival Daldry noted that Trash played as a comedy, owing to their manner of speaking.

There certainly are humorous moments but others that are truly barbarous. The lively samba soundtrack which hurtles along with the excellent pacing of the film changes to a deep, sorrowful and entirely incongruous classical at its most violent.

Trash will go some way to restoring your faith in humanity at a time when events around the world make it easy to forget the goodness of which human kind is capable when united by friendship and doing what is right. Raphael remarks that “faith can move mountains” and Daldry’s film may well just convince you of that.

This review also appears here at OnTheBox.com!