Cert 15 | ★★★★☆
Trash is a noir-ish political thriller that draws attention to the deep social and economic problems of the developing world without sacrificing on plot. It’s a welcome surprise from the director of Billy Elliot and the writer of Love Actually about children living and working in a Brazilian dump. Pursued by the police, a would-be whistleblower flings his wallet, containing a key and a coded message, into a passing garbage truck. It is taken to a landfill on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, where it’s discovered by 14-year-old trash-picker Raphael. With the police also seeking the wallet, Raphael and his friends Gardo and Rat soon find themselves in a dangerous race to unlock its secrets.
Rickson Tevez, Eduardo Luis, and Gabriel Weinstein are excellent as the trio of amateur sleuths, while Martin Sheen and Rooney Mara provide star-power as a washed-up priest and an aid worker. They are, however, just supporting players and not, thankfully, great white heroes stepping in to solve the boys’ problems. And Selton Mello is fascinating as the primary antagonist, a senior police officer working for a dirty local politician. His seraphic features and dehumanising actions neatly personify institutional corruption that hides behind a façade of legitimacy.
This is Richard Curtis’ best work since Blackadder Goes Forth and it similarly exposes a desperate situation, exacerbated by neglectful, self-regarding authorities. The direction is in the tradition of Italian neorealism – only with greater narrative momentum – telling a tale set among the poor, filmed on location, using non-professional actors in leading roles, and focused on the troubles of everyday life and social injustice. Stephen Daldry’s Trash is a treasure.