REVIEW: “Trust”

TRUST poster

When hearing David Schwimmer’s name most will automatically think back to his goofy, good-hearted character from the television comedy series “Friends”. What may surprise them is that Schwimmer is also the director of the 2010 feature film titled “Trust”, a bold and unflinching look at sexual abuse. This is no comedy. This is no lightweight drama. This film doesn’t skim around the edges of its topic. “Trust” is an honest examination – a cautionary tale focused on a topic that many would prefer to stay away from.

The film is based on a story written by Schwimmer. His inspiration came from his 14 years with The Rape Foundation, a group focused on support, prevention, and education about rape. Schwimmer’s intense research spanned seven years and took him to a number of individuals and families who have been decimated by these despicable crimes. For Schwimmer this was an important story to tell and his uncompromising yet sensitive approach does this highly relevant subject justice.


The film starts by showing us a strong, stable, and close family. Husband and wife Will (Clive Owen) and Lynn (Catherine Keener) are loving parents to their three children. Annie (Liana Liberato) is their strong and outgoing 14-year old. In almost systematic fashion the film shows the methodology and seduction of young Annie by a 35-year old internet predator going by the name of Charlie. It begins in an internet chat room and evolves to text messages and intimate phone calls. It starts with one lie followed by another and another until Annie gives in to Charlie’s manipulation.

The rape of a young girl is powerful and sobering material, but perhaps the film’s most compelling decision is to focus more on the aftermath and fallout than the actual transgression. Schwimmer takes us stage by stage through Annie’s coping struggles which range from denial to defending Charlie. At times Annie’s emotional battles are excruciating to watch mainly due to the deftly honest handling of the subject and Liberato’s revelatory performance. Liberato was actually 14-years old when the film was being made which gives so many of her scenes an even sharper and more unsettling edge. She is magnificent.


But the film goes further and examines several other consequences. It looks at distorted perceptions of sexual assault. It looks at internet bullying. It looks at the effects that such a horrible event can have on a family namely a devastated father. Clive Owen gives a performance that should have demanded Oscar recognition. He shows us a wounded father drowning in sadness, insuppressible rage, and unbridled guilt. And the scenes Owen shares with Liberato are powerful and heart-wrenching. Toss in great performances by the always reliable Keener and Viola Davis as Anna’s counsellor.

Schwimmer said in many ways this is a film about “parenting in the age of technology”. With so many children having smart phones, laptops, and tablets with open access to the internet, and with the sickening number of internet predators this is an extremely relevant topic. “Trust” is a startling and often troubling movie but an incredibly earnest and sensitive one as well. It sugarcoats nothing and offers no easy answers or quick solutions. It deals in painful reality. This could have easily been an exploitative and overly melodramatic project. Thankfully Schwimmer and his cast care about the topic and are deeply invested in getting it right. Ultimately that’s why “Trust” is such a gripping and forceful success.


TEST star

REVIEW: “Words and Pictures”


Whenever you see a movie starring Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche you should automatically have a certain bit of excitement and expectation. These are two top level performers who have some of the most natural acting sensibilities. The two come together in the 2014 romantic drama “Words and Pictures”. The film is directed by 74-year old Australian Fred Schepisi. I wasn’t familiar with Schepisi’s work so while looking through his filmography the one film that stood out was the 1987 Steve Martin romantic comedy “Roxanne”.

The film is set in Maine. Jack Marcus (Owen) is a language and writing teacher at a prominent college prep school. He has been a successful writer and poet and has been successful as an educator. But it doesn’t take long to see that he has his own demons. First there is his strained relationship with his son. Then there is his self-destructive alcoholism that begins to bleed over into his job performance. He soon finds his teaching gig in jeopardy pending a school administration review.


Binoche plays Dina Delsanto. She arrives at the school to serve as the new art teacher. She is an accomplished artist who has seen her career take a difficult turn due to her painful and worsening rheumatoid arthritis. Her frustrations with her conditions sometimes cause friction with her new students, but she genuinely seeks to increase their knowledge and love for art.

As you can probably guess the two teachers meet and Dina’s first impression of the smug Jack isn’t a great one. Dina wants nothing to do with him. Jack views his playful agitations as his own weird sign of affection. The two strong personalities clash over practically everything from their art forms to the prospects of a possible relationship. Owen and Binoche have a good chemistry and as you watch them you begin to hope that the walls between them will soften. These are two fabulous lead performances.


Writer Gerald Di Pego tosses in a few unique dramatic elements which keeps the film interesting. His script is also smart enough to let his two wonderful leads act. But at the same time the story does end up following a fairly familiar blueprint. It sets itself up to be truly different but in the second half you’ll notice several things that feel all too familiar. Even the ending seems too neat and polished. It never kills the movie, but it would have been interesting to see some of the more unique directions this story could have gone.

Still there is enough here to like and I enjoyed “Words and Pictures”. Its main draw is Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche – two performers I never grow tired of watching. They make this film automatically worth your time. And even though the story isn’t that ambitious or new, the film has its moments that really work. It can be romantic, funny, and genuinely heartfelt. It also gives us characters we can actually care about. Those pluses outweigh the snags which keep it from being even better.


5 Phenomenal Non-Western Shootouts


In what I think was my second ever Phenomenal 5 I looked at phenomenal western shootouts. Now, over 50 lists later, I’m going to look at 5 phenomenal non-western shootouts. I separated the two mainly because nearly every western features or ends in a big shootout. But over the years movies have found more ways to incorporate great gunplay into their storylines. And let me just say I am a sucker for a good gunfight. To narrowed the list down I stayed away from military and war movies. Like westerns they deserve a list all their own. So no more delaying. Let’s get to it. Now as you can imagine there have been tons of shootouts throughout movie history so it would be dumb to call this the definitive list. But I have no problems calling these 5 non-western shootouts absolutely phenomenal.


In 1999 the (then) Wachowski brothers gave us “The Matrix”, a science fiction action picture that quickly gained a huge following. While I don’t love the movie like many others do, I still recognize it for some of its incredible action sequences. The best one involves a shootout that had to make this list. In an attempt to rescue Morpheus, Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie-Ann Moss) have a showdown in a lobby with a group of heavily armed agents. But the two come prepared. With trench coats filled with pistols and sub machine guns, they shoot it out in a stylistic slow motion barrage of bullets. It’s an incredibly slick sequence chock full of gunfire, flying debris, thousands of shell casings, flying bodies. I don’t know about you but that’s right up my alley!


One of the more underrated movies of the last few years is “The International”. This globetrotting thriller starring Clive Owen and Naomi Watts has one of the most realistic and energetic shootouts I’ve ever seen. The two stars are hot on the trail of a corrupt international bank that’s filtering money to arms traders, terrorist groups, and an assortment of other baddies. Owen tracks down an important lead to the Guggenheim Museum. But as he moves to apprehend the lead he finds a heavily armed hit team is waiting. An intense 7 minute shootout follows that’s up there with anything else you’ll see. Lead flies, bullet holes riddle the white museum walls, and glass shatters as Owen tries to make it out alive. This shootout blows me away.

#3 – “THE KILLER” (1989)

Director John Woo could have a list all his own. Woo made a name for himself by filming some of the most dynamic shootouts ever. This king of the Hong Kong action movie genre gave me plenty of scenes to choose from but I went with the final showdown from his 1989 film “The Killer”. Chow Yun-fat and Danny Lee find themselves at odds with a violent criminal organization known as the Triads (I won’t spoil why). While meeting in a church, the two find themselves surrounded by loads of heavily armed (isn’t that always the case) Triads thugs. An insane shootout follows as the thugs attack the church in full force. Muzzle flashes, screaming gunfire, and an insane assortment of falls are all mixed with Woo’s signature slow motion. Bravo!


I have a real soft spot for Robert Rodriguez’s 1995 action flick “Desperado”. It’s easily my favorite of his Mariachi films. “Desperado” has such a great mix of insane over the top action and hilarious humor. And of course Rodriguez’s style is undeniable. There are several great shootouts in the film but there’s one that stands out for me. El Mariachi (Antonio Banderas) calls his two guitar case toting buddies and squares off against a drug lord’s gang. In old west style, the two sides square off on a dirt road but this is no old west gunfight. The bad guys pull up in their bulletproof limo armed with assault rifles. But our mariachis aren’t armed with plain old guitar cases. One is actually a rocket launcher and the others are fully automatic mini-guns. The result is a ridiculously wild shootout with a scorching Tito and Tarantula tune playing in the background. Perfection!

#1 – “HEAT”

If you ask me about shootouts in the movies one will always instantly come to mind – the downtown firefight in Michael Mann’s fantastic crime thriller “Heat”. First of all the movie is spectacular and features two of our greatest actors, Al Pacino and Robert De Niro. Pacino is a cop, De Niro is a criminal with a muddy moral compass. De Niro and his crew (which includes Val Kilmer and Tom Sizemore) are finishing their final big bank heist when they run into Pacino and a brigade of cops. An intensely realistic shootout follows in the streets of downtown Los Angeles. Few shootouts can match what Mann gives us here. The loud sounds of accentuated gunfire bouncing off of the buildings and the brilliance of how it’s shot and edited pull you into the middle of the chaos. It’s truly phenomenal!

So how those five non-western shootouts? Agree or disagree with my choices? Let me know what shootouts would have made your list.