dir Stephen Daldry
scr Richard Curtis
prd Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Kris Thykier
with Rickson Tevez, Eduardo Luis, Gabriel Weinstein, Selton Mello, Wagner Moura, Martin Sheen, Rooney Mara, Nelson Xavier, Jose Dumont, Stepan Nercessian, Gisele Froes, Maria Eduarda
release Br 9.Oct.14, UK 30.Jan.15
13/Brazil Universal 1h54
Staying one step ahead: Tevez, Luis and Weinstein

moura sheen mara
abu dhabi film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Trash There's a tonal war raging in this movie, as the gritty exploration of prejudice and corruption in Brazil strains against a heartwarming Slumdog Millionaire-like tale of young boys taking on the system. Some segements are dark, intense and violent, while other scenes revel in jubilant happiness. Fortunately, the mystery holding it together is intriguing, clever and important.

In Rio dump, a community lives off what lurks in the mountains of rubbish. When 14-year-old Rafael (Tevez) finds a wallet, he splits the cash with his pal Gardo (Luis), but other things inside it spark their interest. Especially since cruel detective Federico (Mello) clearly wants it so bad. Enlisting their friend Rato (Weinstein), Rafael and Gardo set out to discover the truth about the wallet's owner Jose Angelo (Moura). As the cops get increasingly desperate, charity worker Olivia (Mara) and Father Juilliard (Sheen) also help the boys stay one step ahead of Federico.

Curtis' script never digs too deeply, emphasising the boys' camaraderie as they piece together a puzzle that reveals vast political corruption. While Daldry strives for a breezy, caper-like vibe, he also depicts nasty scenes of torture, murder and a visit to a nightmarish prison. It's shot and edited with snappy energy, and the actors create vivid characters. The three boys are cheeky and resourceful, but know the dangers outside the relative safety of their homey slum, built precariously over muddy waterways.

By contrast, the grown-ups are much more simplistic. Mello's vicious policeman never offers even a hint of humanity, while Sheen and Mara are almost too saintly. But essentially they're only here to provide the framework within which the boys search for one clue after another as they get involved in a series of terrifying situaitons (including a thrilling chase through a favela) and find hilariously outrageous ways to outwit the authorities.

The title has an obvious double edge, as these kids have learned not to trust policemen who treat the poor like trash. They know justice is elusive in this corrupt system. And this leads to some moving sequences, notably as Rafael stands up boldly to the cops, knowing that he's the good guy and they want to kill him. This "do the right thing" message feels rather contrived, even as it makes us feel good. And it's hard to miss the point that one day people will take to the streets in rage at such a lopsided society. And not just in Brazil.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 22.Jan.15

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© 2015 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall