Directed by Stephen Daldry
written by jordan dodd
A man is being chased. He is desperately running into an inevitable dead-end after trying to steal from a politician; a rich man whose ambition is to become mayor. He has obviously nicked something of immense value, as the thief hurls the wallet from the balcony he is standing on before he is violently seized. The wallet lands safely in the back of a garbage truck. Cut to the next scene and we are taken to a poverty-stricken area of Brazil, where hundreds if not thousands of locals, many of them children, are rummaging through the piles and bags of rubbish to find something of value. Young Raphael, a boy of maybe 12 or 13, finds this wallet while searching and tells his friend as they smile and think of what to spend the money on. However, there is more inside the wallet that cash and ID. There was a reason this man threw the thing as far as he could; he didn’t want this greedy politician Santos to get ahold of its contents. Santos decides to be proactive about the situation, and as a clear sign of the importance of the contents of this wallet, he immediately heads for the dump that the truck was heading for, along with his armed goons. The police are also on-side, on the look out for anything suspicious. It is a tense start to a tense film.
Trash is a great movie, both heartbreaking and heartwarming, dark, but light shines through. It also is not afraid to yell its message loud and clear to the viewer about poverty and corruption in Brazil, not to mention the massive class gap between the lower and middle-high class families as a result of it all. The message may not be subtle, but does it need to be? This is a film with many themes, and corruption – and the battle against it – intertwines them all, especially with an inventive narrative to set the film into motion, also at key points showing quick cut flashbacks to the man who owned the wallet as the children rifle through its contents, and decide to find out why this wallet is so important.
A kid, like so many others, is now in possession of this wallet and is sitting on it. Because he and his friends decided it is the right thing to do: rather than handing it in to the corrupt authorities, who are offering a supposed reward while paying the kids a measly fee to look through the garbage for the wallet, they follow the trail that is the contents of the wallet, springboarding the film into a thrilling adventure that is gritty and dirty. A very apt title then, especially when you see scenes of Brazilian police, working under orders from this politician, taking pot shots at the children who aren’t even teenagers, or armed. Or guilty.
Given that the film is obviously based in a poor community somewhere in Brazil, Rooney Mara and Martin Sheen’s roles as missionaries aren’t out-of-place, and in fact both actors had great chemistry with the three local boys on this treasure hunt, one of whom lives in the sewers of the town. The boys themselves do an intense job, driving home the fear that they are living under while always remaining stubborn and determined in what they have decided they must do. The slight language barrier between characters here make for some great scenes between all these actors, without the film diving into sentimentality. The barrier for communication is there but this somehow strengthens the boys trust and respect for these two social workers who never have a day off.
During their adventure, of course, it is great to watch each character arc and to read how each of them has changed dramatically as a person by the events, not to mention their friendship and loyalty being tested many times. Unfortunately the characters aren’t much more than caricatures, but considering the nature of the narrative and the tension and constant threat the boys are under, I can forgive a lack of character deepness. We see them grow into men, but as boys or men their personalities are mostly forgettable and rather shallow. The urgency of the film and the fact that the boys are constantly on the run, their fate unknown, makes this a gripping watch, especially with some brutal, pitch black scenes that are not only very heavy, but also framed extremely well, as is the entire movie. Who knew mountains of trash could look great?
But the main theme here is obviously the rampant corruption apparent in Brazil, and really, in every government of the world, of varying degrees of course. This makes it relatable despite it being a foreign language film, and in addition to this, as police officers are given more power in many countries, including my own unfortunately, this is also eminently relatable when we see what these people are willing to do for money, for a politician. What a politician is willing to do to become powerful, and the power of his fury – and its consequences – due to what seems like a trivial problem at the beginning of the film.
4/5 – Powerful acting by the young boys, and serviceable if not slightly wasted roles for Rooney and Sheen. The main attraction here is the adventure we follow, the youthful energy we are infected with, and the energy these children are willing to use to fight for what they believe is justice. Well worth a watch, even if its political messages couldn’t be further from subtle.