Trash has been shallowly pitched as Rio’s equivalent to Slumdog Millionaire. Sure, the favelas provide an equally vivid, energetic setting as the slums of Mumbai, but Stephen Daldry’s action/adventure/drama/thriller undoubtedly suffers from such comparisons. Overall, the film is more than a little messy with so many genres incorporated in a film so fast paced. It’s an adaptation of Andy Mulligan’s 2010 young adult novel, and yet aspects of Trash feel either too young or too adult to appeal to its core audience; the balance is clearly way off when themes of political corruption and police brutality are offset by a syrupy, fairy-tale structure. It undermines the intermittent realism of the film and the validity of its comments on Brazil’s very real social and political problems. All can be resolved, it seems, by a group of sweet, scrappy, slum kids with an indomitable sense of justice.
However, this pervading sense of hopefulness and optimism is equally a redeeming feature of the film, aided by the likeability of the cast of non-actor children. Rooney Mara, as a kindly aid worker, plays second fiddle to the lively ragamuffins, while Martin Sheen barely features as a hard drinking priest. Tevis, Luis and Weinstein are utterly convincing in their roles; as natives of Rio they lend a needed sense of authenticity to the film. At times the shots of them scrambling among the rubbish heaps could be lifted straight from a docudrama rather than a studio produced motion picture. The energy that they bring to the screen is matched by the vivacity of Rio, the festival spirit, and the vibrant colour that seeps into even the more terse, tension-mounting scenes. The film is visually so enjoyable and transportive that the idealism of the story seems apt in this paradisal location.