There's no reason "Trust" shouldn't work. It stars Clive Owen and Catherine Keener in strong performances as Will and Lynn, parents whose fourteen-year-old daughter, Annie, is seduced online by an adult predator and subsequently raped. Annie is played by Liana Liberato in a committed, psychologically complex turn. The film's problem is that it doesn't follow suit. In approaching a difficult subject, it stays mostly on the surface, letting melodramatic outbursts, realizations, and reconciliations stand in for a more thorough consideration of its themes. It has the elements in place to delve deeper, but it holds back.
Its most interesting dimension is its main character's reaction to being raped. Annie most surely is the victim of coercion and assault, but she doesn't see it that way. At every point along the way, she gives her consent to the man manipulating her from afar. At first, she thinks he's a teenager like her; then he tells her he's twenty; then twenty-five; then she finds out he's much older than that. But she doesn't reject his subtly insinuating advances. He's such a skilled manipulator he makes her believe every choice is her own, that he's following her lead, and even after the event is reported to the police she defends him as if he is the one who has been wronged. She doesn't know why her father doesn't like her new boyfriend, or why the FBI doesn't like her new boyfriend, but of course she knows. She just doesn't want to know.
But the film's execution leaves something to be desired. The introductory scenes are straight out of an "Afterschool Special," from the too-idyllic family dynamic – happily married, upper-middle-class parents; a perfect older brother leaving for college; family dinners where they talk about their day – to the online chats, which are full of cliches that would have seemed obvious even before the age of "To Catch a Predator." And the aftermath relies too heavily on tears while sidestepping interesting issues, including Will's initial ambivalence over his daughter's role in her attack. In one scene, he stumbles upon the online messages exchanged between Annie and her rapist, and he's outraged, not just by the rapist, but by Annie's graphic sexual language. The film ultimately plays it safe, reducing his turmoil simply to shame over not being able to protect his daughter, but there's something else at work that a bolder film might have explored: an adult man struggling to relate to his teenage daughter, he's not only wondering why he couldn't protect her, but why she didn't say no. He's disturbed by her budding sexuality.
There's an ill-fitting subplot involving Will's advertising firm, where he has spearheaded a provocative, tween-targeting campaign for a clothing retailer; this tsk-tsking little story point amounts to lazy moralizing – won't somebody please think of the children! – and isn't developed well enough to make a difference anyway. A police procedural also develops involving Jason Clarke as an FBI agent, but that would better have been trimmed as well; by that point we want more depth in the characters, not the detective work.
Viola Davis has a supporting role as a crisis counselor, whose only purpose is to ask questions and look sympathetic while the main characters address their feelings directly to the audience. Davis is good at that; she played a virtually identical character in "It's Kind of a Funny Story," in which she counseled a troubled teenage boy instead of a teenage girl. She also played the best friend/sounding board for Julia Roberts in the fraudulent stop-and-smell-the-roses travelogue "Eat Pray Love" and a vaguely annoyed-looking case worker to Shia LaBeouf in the thriller "Disturbia." It's possible this is just how casting directors have seen the two-time Tony-winning actress. She is likely bound for a Best Actress Oscar nomination for her performance in "The Help." Maybe then the undervalued actress will be allowed to play characters who do more than listen to other people's problems.