Dir: Stephen Daldry. UK-Brazil. 2014. 113mins


An entertaining and fascinating blend of Hollywood storytelling and Brazilian energy, Stephen Daldry’s Trash may well have the sheen of a classy foreign-language art-house film (and the involvement of Fernando Meirelles’ 02 Filmes shines through) but its beating heart is the classy combination of Daldry’s astute filmmaking skills and unique ability to bring the best out of his young child stars and a savvy script from Richard Curtis (adapted into Brazilian-Portuguese by Felipe Braga).

Daldry astutely never resorts to using Rio de Janeiro as a simple filmic backdrop, and while Sheen and Mara offer modest interventions the beating heart of the film is the splendid performances from this three teenage leads who are brimming with energy and charisma.

The Universal release, which had its world premiere as closer of the Rio Film Festival and also screens at the Rome Film Festival, is an engagingly freewheeling romp through the grittier side of Brazil, focusing on political corruption and police brutality as it weaves its story of a handful of slum kids who come across information that could bring down a corrupt official. It will be a challenge for Universal’s marketing machine – this is no young kids’ film given the violence involved – but good reviews and word of mouth could see it click with discerning audiences.

There will be a knee-jerk response to link the film to Danny Boyle’s hit Slumdog Millionaire, but the Brazilian backdrop, City Of God themes, and younger key cast mark it as a rather different film. Casting of Martin Sheen and Rooney Mara should help US awareness while Brazilian stars Wagner Moura and Selton Mello will pique Latin American interest, but in truth the strength of the film lies with the three young performers.

Christian Duuvoort gets a credit as co-director, presumably in helping the local actors in their own language, which combined with Daldry’s ability to get the very best from his three teenage actors, who play streetwise kids living in a lakeside favela and who work at a local dump, sifting through rubbish for anything that can help make a bit of money. The film opens in pure City Of God style with one the kids, Raphael (Rickson Tevis), staring down the barrel of an automatic being encouraged to kill, before the story switches back several days earlier to explain how things got to such a sticky situation.

Jose Angelo (Moura) is seen at a cemetery with a coffin for his daughter, busy writing notes and placing items in his wallet. Later his flat is raided by police, but he manages to throw the wallet onto a passing garbage truck. He is tortured and killed by police, but they realise what he has done and start to search rubbish dumps.

Raphael finds the wallet and shares cash he finds in it with his friend Gardo (Eduardo Luis), but when police come around offering a reward they decide to hang onto it for a few days hoping the reward might go up. The pair also she the wallet to their sewer-dwelling pal Rato (Gabriel Weinstein), who recognises a key as belonging to lockers at the train station. There they find a piece of paper with a letter and some kind of code, and head home to sneak into the house of priest Father Julliard (Sheen), so they can use his computer to try and finds more about the names they discover in the letter.

Tough – but baby-faced – police inspector Frederico (Mello) suspects the boys are lying, and in a rather brutal sequence injures Raphael and orders him killed (but his underlings cant be bothered to do his dirty-work) but the youngster overhears mention of mayoral candidate Antonio Santos (Stepan Nercessian) and his corrupt campaign. Things get rather complex as the boys – with the help of Olivia (Mara) – have to try and talk to a jailed relative of Angelo; infiltrate Santos’ beachside estate and also decipher a code that will eventually reveal the truth behind what Angelo was up to. It all turns out to involve $4million in stolen payoff money and more importantly Santos’ stolen ledger detailing who is paying him bribes.

A late revelation about Angelo’s daughter feels rather unconvincing and almost disrupts the momentum of the film, but it is to Daldry’s credit that he keeps things pacy and energetic, with the film interspersed with a direct-to-camera video the boys make which helps refocus the story when things look in danger of getting too complicated. Daldry astutely never resorts to using Rio de Janeiro as a simple filmic backdrop, and while Sheen and Mara (whose character is never really explained or exploited) offer modest interventions the beating heart of the film is the splendid performances from his three teenage leads who are brimming with energy and charisma.

Production companies: Working Title Films, O2 Filmes, PeaPie Films.

International distribution: Universal Pictures

Producers: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Kris Thykier

Executive producers: Bel Berlinck, Andrea Barata Ribeiro, Fernando Meirelles, Amelia Granger, Liza Chasin

Co-director (Brazil): Christian Duurvoort

Screenplay: Richard Curtis, based on the novel by Andy Mulligan, with script consultant, Felipe Braga

Cinematography: Adriano Goldman

Editor: Elliot Graham

Music: Antonio Pinto

Production designer: Tule Peak

Main cast: Selton Mello, Wagner Moura, Rooney Mara, Martin Sheen, Rickson Tevis, Eduardo Luis, Gabriel Weinstein, Nelson Xavier, Stepan Nercessian, Teca Pereira, Conceicao Camarotti, Jesuita Barbosa, Charles Paraventi, Enrique Diaz, Leandro Firmino, Gisele Froes, Andre Ramiro, Magdale Alves, Maria Eduarda Lima Botelho, Jose Dumont, Christiane Amanpour