Trust (2021)

Trust opens with an impressionistically glimpsed and artfully effaced couple having panting, passionate sex, while a series of increasingly urgent incoming text messages (“You OK?” “Call me back.” “Call me!”) is ignored.

Next we see Brooke Gatwick (Victoria Justice) returning with a suitcase to her New York apartment, where she greets Owen Shore (Matthew – borther of Alexandra – Daddario) with the words, “I missed you” – and the film cuts to five days earlier.

In fact this opening lays out several of Trust‘s key components. Not only is there the central theme of infidelity, but also an elision of identity that leaves us uncertain who exactly is cheating on whom (and with whom). Those missed calls establish a motif of crossed messages and lost (or at least deferred) meaning – and that early, explicit flashback will be the first of several that fill in narrative gaps we never realised were incomplete. 

Adapted by Kristen Lazarian, K.S. Bruce and Brian DeCubellis from Lazarian’s 2008 stage play Push, Trust captures a couple at a crossroads. Sweethearts since high school, Brooke and Owen are now married and still very much in love, but despite wanting to have a child together, they rarely have sex anymore, and are both preoccupied with building their separate careers: Brooke is in the process of opening her own art gallery after years of working at an auctioning house, while Owen is a TV news reporter trying to move from light features to more serious investigative work. Owen proposes a romantic Christmas break in Paris, but Brooke is simply too busy – until, that is, her job requires her to be in Paris with her only client Ansgar Doyle (Lucien Laviscount), a priapic, promiscuous painter described by Brooke’s divorce-lawyer friend Eleanor (Lindsey Broad) as “the world’s sexiest man alive.” Owen is both jealous and suspicious – but then Brooke too is wondering about the secretive texts her husband keeps receiving from his female colleagues, or the strange journeys across town that he takes in the wee hours of the night. 

“This is Owen we’re talking about. So many years of nothing but good. I’m not worried at all,” Brookes confides in Eleanor, while sounding as though she is trying to convince herself. “Honestly, I don’t think he’s really cheating but it just makes me wonder if he would cheat. It’s the sliver of doubt that’s killing me.” That nagging mistrust – and it is mutual – is what propels the plot of Brian DeCubellis’ ironically titled feature debut as director, while also threatening to drive these youngish lovers forever apart. Along the way, the viewer’s loyalties are tested no less than the couple’s, in a time-leaping scenario full of ellipses into which misunderstandings and prejudices are invited to slip. For here, it is precisely the fear of adultery that keeps pushing Brooke and Owen closer to it, with the student Amy (Katherine McNamara) proving all at once seductress, go-between, surrogate and free agent on a potentially home-wrecking mission.

Hopping between the City Of Love and the City That Never Sleeps in the Season of Good Will, Trust offers an array of good-looking people in affluent settings, thus fulfilling the aspirational requirements of a classic Yuletide romance – but really this is a post-romantic story, posing difficult questions about how a relationship changes and evolves, not always for the better, years after the meet-cute and the wedding are over, when the magic is dwindling and the temptation to stray towards something new is strong. DeCubelli’s urban erotic drama is a taut, twisty affair – and if it comes with a conventional happy ending, this ending, like that of the Coen Brothers’ Raising Arizona (1987), is a wild wish-fulfilment projection, carefully framed as an optimistic, idealised fantasy all in the mind. Still, if, after what these two have been through apart, they can still dream of a future together, perhaps there remains a chance for them after all.

© Anton Bitel