Film Review: Trash

Call it a Brazilian 'Slumdog.' This crime and kids saga keeps moving and you keep watching.
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In Rio de Janeiro, a wallet found by a couple of boys, Rafael (Rickson Tevez) and Gardo (Eduardo Luis), in the trash heap of their slum, changes their young lives forever. It turns out that the police are quite interested in their find, but hating corrupt cops, the two decide to keep the wallet rather than turn it in for a reward. They and their sewer-dwelling friend Rato (Gabriel Weinstein) attempt to discover the reason for its importance, all the while trying to evade the police, especially its viciously malevolent head guy, Frederico (Selton Mello), who, at one point, has Rafael brutally beaten up. They are helped by two American missionaries working in their favela, Father Julliard (Martin Sheen) and his assistant Olivia (Rooney Mara).

Co-director Stephen Daldry confidently helms this mixed bag—half sentimental and fable-like, half authentic tale—which has definite moments of sheer cinematic excitement. These are mostly to be found in the numerous chase scenes, with the bad guys running after the ingeniously slippery boys in teemingly populated sections of Rio in a way that sometimes recalls the immortal casbah of Algiers. Adriano Goldman’s cinematography is especially noteworthy, filled with memorable, often uncannily gorgeous shots of the lowliest places, like Rio’s huge city dump. (That’s also where the film’s exhilarating but cornball wish-fulfillment ending was shot.)

The three gritty and gifted boy actors are quite wonderful—de Sica-worthy, even, which to me is the highest of praise. A crustily redoubtable Sheen and Rooney are both engaging and deeply committed, providing something of a relief from all the sweat and dirt of the kids’ existence, but their characters can’t help but seem a tad “Hollywood,” like safe and comforting (and white) guides to all these strangers in a strange land. Mello is baby-faced handsome and makes one of the most purely hissable villains in recent movie memory. 

A popping music score, laced with effervescent Brazilian hip-hop selections, is a definite asset here.

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