The story follows three boys in a third world country who scrape a living by picking through trash. One day they find a leather bag, the contents of which plunge them into a terrifying adventure, pitting their wits against corruption and authority to right a wrong.
It's strange that a film directed by Stephen Daldry (three-time Oscar nominee for 'Billy Elliot,' 'The Hours' and 'The Reader') and written by Richard Curtis ('Love Actually,' 'About Time') would be released without an ounce of publicity. With those credentials, 'Trash' immediately caught my attention. As I popped the disc in and began watching it, I was surprised by the great quality and story at hand. With a 'Slumdog Millionaire' and 'City of God' feel, I couldn't understand why it wasn't a well-known mainstream picture; but by the time it ended, I figured it out. Two things: unlike 'Slumdog,' 'Trash' could never go mainstream because 95 percent of the dialog is in Portuguese, not English; and while the first half of the movie may be impressively made and gripping, the second half is somewhat undermined by the story taking a predictable and average route.
'Trash' tells the story of three kids who live in an impoverished community at the bottom of a garbage dump just outside Rio de Janiero, Brazil. Like all who live there, these pre-teens work at the dump scavenging for valuable items. The film kicks off with a puzzling intro showing a wealthy man being chased by the police with their weapons drawn. When he runs into a dead end, he removes his wallet and tosses it into a moving trash truck that's en route to the dump. At that same moment, the officers light up the frightened and unarmed man. Watching the truck head to the dump, they follow it, but can't get there before one of our three leading boys find the dead man's wallet. The large leather billfold not only contains an amount of cash that causes the boys' mouths to drop, but also a set of odd items that have no apparent connection – a lottery card, a locker key, and a flipbook of images featuring a smiling little girl.
As the crooked police officers enter the neighborhood and begin questioning all of the trash diggers, they suspect the kids, due to them inexplicably and noticeably having more food than the others, an amount of food that they would not have been able to afford without having a generous boost in income. Because of that, they follow the kids, even kidnapping one and roughing him up in the process. With the desire to do good and stop the crooked cops from getting their hands on the clues hidden within the wallet, they resolve to solve the puzzle on their own, all with the murderous police on their heels.
Viewers unfamiliar with Brazilian cinema - pictures like 'Elite Squad' - will only know two of the cast members, but that doesn't mean that these unknown actors aren't capable of delivering solid performances. The Brazilian cast is just as fantastic as the film's two American co-stars, Rooney Mara and Martin Sheen. Sheen plays a humble priest who was assigned to run a church in the area, and Mara plays a humanitarian worker who helps at the church. Both play integral roles in helping the boys solve the mystery.
Unfortunately, as the clues are pieced together, the secrets they reveal are far less creative and interesting as the story, screenplay, and directing have been all along. While 'Trash' get off to a strong start, it can't retain it. It ends in a pretty predictable fashion, one that will make you shuffle it away into the "okay" filing cabinet in your mind. It's worth watching once, but it isn't as memorable as you'd expect from Daldry and Curtis.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Universal has placed 'Trash,' a Focus World-distributed film, on a region-free BD-50. Included in the Elite keepcase is a code that will allow you to redeem both an iTunes and an Ultraviolet digital copy. Universal's traditional menu layout is slightly different from usual, immediately prompting you to select your global region before being taken to a Universal logo reel, an FBI warning, a rating card, and ultimately the clip-heavy main menu. Presumably meant to make this Blu-ray easy to navigate through no matter the language one speaks, there's no text for the on-screen button options. Instead, icons represent the menu action. Be warned that the icons aren't as intuitive as you might expect.
I expected 'Trash' to feature a raw, gritty and oversaturated cinematic presentation, and while it undeniably features some of those characteristics from time to time, the digital presentation is crisp, sharp, smooth, against stereotype and void of revealing its low budget. The grand locations, like the dump and the favelas (known from such movies as 'Fast Five' and 'The Incredible Hulk') are shot in a way that not only makes them visually gripping, but with wonderful detail that makes the dump appear to be made up of real garbage (as opposed to a decorated on-location set) and the favelas look like an interesting place to get lost in for one day. Textures, details and natural visual characteristics of physical objects are rich.
The world that the boys know, that of the filthy and muddy dump, is heavy with earthtones. The palette makes it an unwelcome and unimpressive place. However, we see bits of the colorization start to enter once the wallet is found, a sign of the world changing for them. First, color creeps in with the presence of police officers and their vehicles. Amongst the earthy colors, the reds, blues and yellows pop with natural vibrancy. As they leave their small world, colors become much more prevalent. The colorization and contrast are consistent throughout, never wavering or lacking.
Without bands, crushing, artifacts or noise, there's really nothing to complain about with the video quality of 'Trash.' It lacks a little oomph to push it up to the five-star level, but it's still worlds better than most little movies of this type.
'Trash' features a much more impressive 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track than you might expect. It's worth pointing out that the case describes this as a Portuguese track. With English most definitely not being the primary language, it's credited as a Portuguese-language film. Nonetheless, it's great. Be it English or Portuguese dialog, the vocal mixing is bright and clear.
Music – especially local music – plays a major part of the movie. It's loud, occasionally wild, and dynamically spread throughout the mix. Like a great mix does with effects, the music carries a layered quality to it. Best described as a mix of rap and reggae, the snare drums rattle from side to side. Bass thumps with a real weight and rumble. It's a very highly effective way to feel immersed in the foreign world of the movie.
Environments are brought to life by the level of detail put into the mixing of effects. Crowded areas like transit stations and prison common areas feature banter and chatter that's spread through each of the channels. When set next to a rail yard, off-screen boxcars can be heard seamlessly rolling along and screeching down the tracks. As the kids run across a bustling highway, vehicles also seamlessly pass from side-to-side. When appropriate, the effects are mixed with subtlety, but the rest of the effects certainly don't play at a shy volume.
There isn't a single special feature included on the Blu-ray.
Despite featuring a very promising writing/directing combination and strong filmmaking, 'Trash' falls victim to a story that leaves the gate running, but ultimately slows and comes in late. The great performances of both unknown Brazilian actors – including children – and two known American co-stars are better than the story itself deserves. The Blu-ray features very strong and much better than expected video and audio qualities, but doesn't feature a single special feature. With many likeable and noteworthy elements to it, 'Trash' is worth a look at least once, but is not worthy of a blind buy.