My Favorite Performance of 2011

Liana Liberato delivers a revelatory performance in David Schwimmer’s “Trust.” Courtesy of Millennium Entertainment.

I saw David Schwimmer’s “Trust” on a triple bill at Chicago’s Lake Street screening room back in the early Spring of 2011. It was the last film of the day, and I had no idea what I was about to see. As a full-time film critic, I’ve never had much time to attend live theatre (though if I had a clone, he would be currently toiling away to become the next Hedy Weiss). Thus, I hadn’t realized that Schwimmer’s film was based on his stage play of the same name, which had been performed by Chicago’s Lookingglass Theatre Company the previous year, and garnered great acclaim for its young star, Allison Torem (a future guest on my podcast). I also missed the film when it played at the 2010 Chicago International Film Festival, where it went on to win the Silver Hugo award for Best Actress.

The honored star of Schwimmer’s film, inhabiting the role originated onstage by Torem, was Liana Liberato, and in the opening moments of “Trust,” I found her face oddly familiar. My mind raced back to a little film I had seen (and neglected to review) back in college called, “The Last Sin Eater.” It was a morose, so-called “family” drama released by the failed distribution arm, “Fox Faith,” which aimed to produce Christian-themed entertainment in order to cash in on the success of a little evangelical smash called, “The Passion of the Christ.” I ended up blogging about the film’s multiple demerits, but cited that its sole bright spot was “Liana Liberato, proving herself to be a rather lovely young actress, yet the script forces her character to be more miserably guilt-ridden than the entire ensemble of ‘Jesus Camp.'”

“Sin Eater” was far from a worthy showcase, yet Liberato still proved to be an actress of great promise. In “Trust,” she fulfills that promise in spades. As Annie, a 14-year-old girl seduced by the words of an online stalker, Liberato scorches the screen with an emotionally raw performance of staggering intensity. She delves into the psyche of a naive but strong-willed teen whose eyes become clouded with confusion once her admirer proves to be far older than he had originally noted. Their relationship culminates in rape, and this is where the film could’ve easily devolved into a Lifetime-style weepie. Yet the script goes in a much more thoughtful direction, opting to explore the feelings of deceit that rupture Annie’s home life. Her father (Clive Owen) is enraged when he discovers the extent to which his daughter had been lying to him, while Annie feels like her privacy has been violated by clueless adults. There are echoes of “Ordinary People” in the crucial sessions between Annie and her therapist (Viola Davis), which allow the girl to finally comprehend the fact that she had been raped. This moment of realization is portrayed so beautifully by Liberato that it left me in tears. Her breakdown is as agonizingly painful as it is cathartic.

No performance in 2011 moved me more deeply than Liberato’s breakout work in Schwimmer’s severely underrated picture. I wrote an immensely positive review upon its initial release, and later ranked it high on my list of the year’s most overlooked films. Liberato was my first choice in the CFCA categories for Best Actress as well as Most Promising Performer (for which she received a nomination). I’ll be looking to her future work with great interest, and I sincerely hope that more filmmakers will awaken to her formidable potential. My advice to them (and you)? Rent “Trust.” It has the power to provoke vital discussions between parents and teenagers, and could even mesmerize the most cynical of filmgoers with its assured direction, peerless ensemble and spectacularly gifted young star.

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