Film Reviews

REVIEW: Trash

Reviewed by: Tom Munday
Image credit: Mediatoco


Brazil is one of the most beautiful and tumultuous places on Earth. Sure, over the several decades, it has received a bad wrap for its economic structure, crime and corruption rates, and scorching conditions. Trash is the latest crime-drama to dust off the filth to find the gold underneath. It is as exotic as the location itself, featuring several tidbits worthy of checking out. Hoping for a wide audience, this fun-filled, wacky adventure is worth your dollars and sense (du, dun, chh!).

Based on Andy Mulligan’s 2010 novel, the story takes place in one of the most disgusting and unforgivable place known to man – the rubbish tip. We are forced to endure that which we ignore on a regular basis. The image of small children working day in, day out in a hostile environment scares a lot of first world folks away. The film, refusing to become an Oxfam awareness campaign commercial, is more concerned with the fairytale than the facts. The movie chronicles the lives of three young sifters – Raphael (Rickson Teves), Gardo (Eduardo Luis), and Rato (Gabriel Weinstein).

The three leads sift through Brazil’s dirt and grime for a living. Earning minimum wage in atrocious conditions, the workers have only a priest, Father Juilliard (Martin Sheen), and NGO-worker, Sister Olivia (Rooney Mara), for protection and support. The tide turns, however, when Raphael discovers the local mayor’s wallet. The wallet, of course, contains damning information that could turn everywhere from Rio to the Amazon on its head.

Director Stephen Daldry has had a tumultuous and fascinating career. A hit in British and American cinema, he hit his strides with Billy Elliot back in the early 2000s. Since then, the filmmaker’s output has been a slew of hit and miss Oscar-hungry efforts. The Hours, The Reader, and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, to say the least, were met with polarising reactions. Trash comes off like the culmination of everything he has made, so far.

The clash of sweeter-than-sugar child-dramedy and maudlin melodrama is ever present throughout Trash. On top of Daldry’s confused style, big-time Brit Richard Curtis(the mind behind Love Actually and Four Weddings and a Funeral)’s generic screenplay draws concrete comparisons to Slumdog Millionaire, Millions, and City of God. Plotlines, characters, and sequences are copied and pasted directly from said superior ‘foreign’ dramas.

The story plays out exactly how you would expect. Daldry and Curtis, playing to sentimentality over introspection, stick to the basics of this type of kid-adventure tale. However, despite the overtly predictable plot twists throughout, the consistent tone and pleasant characters make for a welcome journey. The central conceit (said wallet) yields several interesting surprises. Inside, apart from the giant wad of cash, cards and souvenirs play to our lead character’s advantage. Cutting between the past and present, its style distracts from the narrative’s emotional punch.

The implausibilities climb higher than the Christ the Redeemer statue overlooking the city. Our lead three characters, though continually highlighted as street rats born from nothing, are able to solve complex puzzles and riddles with relative ease and assertiveness. The contrivances prevent it from taking any much-needed left turns. At one point, after Raphael’s violent confrontation with the corrupt police force, one officer’s crucial decisions goes against we had seen. The innocent-mind-of-child theme adds to sugarcoated allure and detracts from the overall impact.

The heartfelt performances, however, elevate Trash above the rest of the trash. Sheen and Mara, though distracting in smaller roles, provide significant charisma as the two whitest people in all of Brazil. Our three leads, in every situation, bounce off one another efficiently. The characters – embodying archetypes like the ‘good one’, the ‘crazy one’, and the ‘angry one’  – are pleasant to watch throughout. Teves, Luis, and Weinstein are effervescent and snide simultaneously.

Trash is a Saturday-afternoon movie able to stand out from the million plus crowd. Though lacking the poignancy and depth of similar Danny Boyle-directed fare, it succinctly balances child-like glee, thrilling mystery-thriller elements, and likeable presences into a relic worth salvaging.