The story: Two boys, Rafael (Rickson Tevez) and Gardo (Eduardo Luis), find a wallet in the landfill site from which they make a living as trash pickers. They realise it contains something important, so they rope in friend Rato (Gabriel Weinstein) to help solve clues. Their odd behaviour catches the attention of aid workers Father Juilliard (Martin Sheen) and his assistant Olivia (Rooney Mara), as well as that of dangerous men trying to cover up a secret. Based on the 2010 novel of the same name.
It is a simple idea, executed particularly well here: Make a suspense thriller about young adults, aimed at young adults, based on the world we live in now and a film not set in a future dystopia or a fantasy land of demi-gods and vampires.
There is more than a trace of City Of God (2002) here, but that resemblance is inevitable and slightly unfair. Yes, the film has locations in the same slums, with characters drawn from the same bottom layer of society.
But there have been dozens of films based on the lives of Rio's slum kids since 2002 and every one that reaches Western audiences will be accused of being a rip-off because City is the only reference point for most.
We should just agree that "South American slum drama" is not one film, but a genre, and Trash just happens to be one viewed with film-maker Stephen Daldry's more restrained, British sensibility.
There is a danger that comes with films that deal with social injustice: The worry is that the tone will turn preachy and the characters become ciphers mouthing slogans.
Neither Father Juilliard (Sheen) nor Olivia (Mara) do this. They help, rather than rescue, the boys. The script thankfully avoids the "foreign saviour" trap to make sure the kids are the ones getting themselves into trouble and out of it.
While the story strays into earnest edutainment now and again, it is smart enough to keep the pot boiling with chase scenes.
Daldry keeps the visual interest level high by cutting between footage from a "selfie cam" showing the kids addressing the audience and long, flowing takes that allow audiences to see the underbelly of a city known more for The Girl From Ipanema, rather than the kids from the trash heap.
This article was first published on Dec 31, 2014.
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