Trash (2014)

Review first published by Film4

Synopsis: Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliott) directs this British-Brazilian co-production in which three trash-sorting boys take the money and run.

Review: A young Brazilian boy (Rickson Teves) aims a gun, his hands trembling. “Kill him, Raphael!”, urges another from offscreen.

It is an arresting opening to Stephen Daldry’s Trash, reminiscent of City of God (2002), that uncompromising mosaic of favela life whose director, Fernando Meirelles, serves as executive producer here. Or perhaps it recalls Hector Babenco’s Pixote (1981), an even more harrowing saga of lost boys in São Paulo. And by the time we have seen Raphael and his young friends Gardo (Eduardo Luis) and Rato (Gabriel Weinstein) finding a wallet full of money and other items on the rubbish dump where they live and spotting opportunity for a better life, it is also hard not to think of Danny Boyle’s Millions (2005) or Slumdog Millionaire (2008).

Still this story, adapted from the 2010 novel by Andy Mulligan, has one influence far greater and more pernicious than these: it is scripted by Britain’s king of saccharin Richard Curtis (Four Weddings and a Funeral; Notting Hill; Love, Actually), who ensures that all its half-hearted attempts to be hard-hitting are thwarted by syrupy sentiment at every turn. Yes, the boys become enmeshed in a life-or-death conspiracy involving a corrupt politician (Stepan Necessian) and a ruthless police enforcer (Selton Mello). Yes, there are graphic glimpses of torture and extrajudicial killings. Yet for all the film’s apparent desire to offer a gritty, realist portrait of life for the Brazilian underclass, the politics here are childishly facile. Curtis just cannot help reducing all this local colour to a black-and-white morality where a nation’s inveterate social divisions can be resolved merely by pure good – and God. This oversimplistic approach to narrative and character is only bolstered by a score that constantly tells us how to feel(good).

The three boys, all untrained actors, carry Trash with great energy, while big names like Rooney Mara and Martin Sheen are less prominent in the film than on the marquee. Supposedly much of the dialogue was improvised on set, but that does not stop the whole plot seeming contrived and overwrought. You can be sure that any ‘casual’ reference to beach idylls or miracles will be picked up and fully played out by the end. Paradise, of course, comes at a price, and in order find theirs, these boys not only redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor but, in a rather mixed message, take far the biggest share for themselves.

Verdict: A slum-set, simplistic boys’ own adventure perhaps best viewed by children of roughly the same age as its principal characters (although the 15 certificate awarded by the BBFC might make this difficult in the UK).