We gave it a B
A color-saturated, kid-centered crime drama set in the slums of Rio de Janeiro, Trash has inevitably already been compared to similar cinematic touchstones like City of God and Slumdog Millionaire. Unfortunately, it’s not nearly as distinctive as either film in style or storytelling, though that may be because the team who made it—director Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliott, The Hours) and screenwriter Richard Curtis (Four Weddings and Funeral, Bridget Jones’s Diary, Love Actually)—are working so far outside their comfort zones.
Trash (told mostly in Portuguese, with English subtitles) is actually an adaptation of a popular YA novel of the same name, so some readers may already be familiar with its scrappy heroes Raphael, Rat, and Gardo—three young boys who live and work in the city’s garbage heaps. They’re exactly the kind of poor, disenfranchised youth society typically ignores or discards, but when one of them finds a wallet that contains something so important that local police are desperate to recover it, they become the targets of massive manhunt. As the trio struggles to stay one step ahead of their pursuers they also turn amateur detectives, following the clues embedded in the wallet’s mysterious contents on a chase that leads them out of the dump and into the chaos and corruption of Rio’s teeming metropolis.
The child actors are all charming and refreshingly un-child-actory, and Martin Sheen is good as gruff, hard-drinking priest. (Though it’s less clear why Rooney Mara was cast as an American Peace Corps type; perhaps to help the film get funding and distribution, since she’s otherwise not given much to do). There’s too much cruelty and violence for very young audiences, and the plot is both baggy and credulity-straining at points. Still, it’s a diverting two hours, and an excellent reminder of the wide world of stories out there waiting to be told. B