It would be churlish indeed to denigrate Billy Elliot director Stephen Daldry and Notting Hill screenwriter Richard Curtis for turning in such a family-friendly and pat-happy movie as Trash – especially in these troubled times of very public (and age-old) allegations of corruption and immorality. In fact if anything, if the lack of grit and narrational neatness that evades and pervades Trash brings a younger audience to the very adult notion of grown-up iniquity, then that can only be a good thing. For while amongst the picture-postcard trash-chic Rio landfill sites Trash may be set, the immense propulsion provided by the film’s ternion of street-kid protagonists – Rickson Teves, Eduardo Luis, and Gabriel Weinstein – is undeniable.
The MacGuffin here is a wallet belonging to one José Angelo (Wagner Moura), right-hand man of the venal Santos (read… well, take your pick really). José has had a crisis of confidence and has constructed a plan to expose the mayor’s nefarious double-dealings – its design concealed within the wallet he flings into a passing garbage truck upon the very moment of his capture by the authorities. The truck and its contents find its way to the mound of detritus where our young heroes work, and its discovery sets off a chain of events that has the boys piecing together and following clue after clue, hotly pursued by fuzz on the take. Socio-politics aside, there’s something of that 80s-era kid-adventuring present here; parents are non-existent, the villains are of the indistinct, by-numbers variety, and the plucky boys make highly rootable- champions. Thankfully, Martin Sheen‘s disillusioned Father Julliard and his Missionary assistant Olivia (Rooney Mara) are relegated to commanding yet supporting roles, sidestepping the dicey nature of white and Western heroism, for once enabled by rather than enabling their minority wards. Maybe there’s not quite as much elaboration of character present that would have truly made Trash soar, but for a film so consumed by optimism and altruism, it’s entirely forgivable.