“Anyone who touches that wallet; I want them dead.”
Ever since his feature film debut in 2000, Billy Elliot, Stephen Daldry’s movies have either been nominated for Best Picture or for Best Director. He followed up the success of Billy Elliot with The Hours, The Reader, and Extremely Loud Incredibly Close. His latest film, Trash, which takes place in Brazil and is almost entirely in Portuguese, ends his Oscar nomination streak (although it was nominated for the Bafta Awards), but it does borrow some common themes from most of his past works. The lead characters are children and the story has an upbeat message despite the subject matter. The screenplay was adapted by Richard Curtis from Andy Mulligan’s 2010 novel and some may find some plot similarities between this film and Meirelles’s City of God, although Trash is much more upbeat and less raw. The three lead characters played by children are extremely charismatic and despite not being professional actors they carry the movie. Perhaps my greatest complaint is that given the subject matter the film doesn’t seem raw enough. These characters live off the trash dump but the film looks too impeccable and clean. It’s just a minor complaint because for the most part I was entertained with the story, but it doesn’t come close to reaching the rawness of City of God.
The film opens with a man on the run from police authorities. Jose Angelo (Wagner Moura, who international audiences may recognize from Elite Squad) has hidden something and the police seem desperate to locate it. As they close in on him Jose spots a garbage truck and tosses his wallet towards it before he is captured. Frederico (Selton Mello) apprehends Jose and begins torturing him for information on what they are looking for. In the next scene we follow the waste truck as it is dumping the trash and several people gather around it looking for food or anything useful. A twelve year old kid named Raphael (Rickson Tevez) finds the wallet which contains some money and a special key. He holds on to it and tells his best friend Gardo (Eduardo Luis) about his discovery. They have no idea what the key opens so they decide to tell another of their friends about the mystery. Rato (Gabriel Weinstein), who lives in the sewers knows exactly what the key is for and he wants to split the findings with them so he joins the adventure. Things gets complicated however when Frederico arrives at the dumping site and offers a reward for anyone who finds the wallet. From that point on the kids don’t only have to try to solve the mystery, but try to avoid being caught by the police in the process.
The plot involving the key may seem similar to Daldry’s previous film, Extremely Loud Incredibly Close, which focuses on a kid trying to discover what the key opens across New York City, but in this case we discover it pretty early on in the film, but the discovery leads to more mystery and thrills. The three lead characters are much more charismatic and the film delivers several funny moments. It is an engaging thriller that gradually build the suspense, but unfortunately the ending is a bit far fetched and stretched out. Martin Sheen and Rooney Mara have supporting performances as he plays Father Julliard and she an English teacher named Olivia who is doing volunteer work. Both end up involved in the case when they decide to help the kids out in different ways. Despite these familiar faces, the true stars of the film are Tevez, Luis, and Weinstein who bring a lot of charisma and innocence to the story. The film’s message is heavy handed as it is a social cry against political corruption and it is juxtaposed against these innocent children who feel like they are being crushed by the unfair system. The film never feels raw enough to convey that strong emotional message, but it is presented in such a way that feels upbeat and entertaining nonetheless. Trash is worth a watch for the performances of these young actors and the gorgeous cinematography capturing the beauty of Brazil. There are also some very interesting and well filmed chase sequences that help build the overall suspense and thrills that the film delivers.