Clive Owen seemed a lock, on paper, to become the new James Bond when Pierce Brosnan turned in his license to kill.
Owen had all the prerequisites – rugged good looks, silky British accent with a hint of menace, thick dark hair. And, of course, he could act.
The Bond producers selected Daniel Craig instead, leaving Owen without a franchise and the clout that comes along with it. Owen rebounded by taking on less glamorous projects, like “The Boys Are Back,” that barely pricked the pop culture conscience but showcased his ability to lose himself in a role.
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With “Trust,” the 2011 drama available now on home video, Owen delivers arguably his most poignant performance yet.
Owen plays Will, the father of a 14-year-old girl (Liana Liberato) who spends every waking hour chatting online with an out of town “friend” named Charlie.
Young Annie grows close to her digital pal, who claims to be her age but soon confesses he’s actually 20 … and later ups that number to 25. When the two meet in person, Annie’s cyber-mate is pushing 40 and eager to get physical.
“Trust,” the second film directed by erstwhile “Friend” David Schwimmer, delves not only into the frightening world of Internet crime but also the bonds that hold families together. Will becomes obsessed with finding the man who abused his daughter, while his wife (an under-used Catherine Keener) just wants to throw her arms around Annie and make the pain go away.
It’s not that simple. Annie is more angry at her parents than Charlie, who she believes is her soul mate.
Schwimmer juggles the disparate elements with a grace that belies his status as a newbie director. He trots out a few neat visual tricks to capture Will’s rage but never loses sense of character along the way. And the film moves swiftly, but not with the kind of breakneck speed that rushes past smaller, more vital sequences that illustrate a young girl’s shattered innocence.
Kudos to “The Help’s” Viola Davis, who needs only a few minutes on screen to resonate as Annie’s counselor.
Even more impressive is how Liberato handles the film’s most demanding role. She’s credible every step of the way, from essaying the rosy-cheeked girl in the throes of her first love to a young woman raging at her parents for invading her personal space.
“Trust” stumbles when it falls into the kind of predictable ruts you’d see in a made-for-TV story. We grimace at one sequence set in a gun shop, and once more when Will picks a fight with a stranger he assumes is ogling a squad of pre-teen volleyball players.
And Schwimmer can’t corral a clumsy subplot involving Will’s job managing a media account involving a provocative line of clothing aimed at teens.
Yet the story doesn’t devolve into the standard man hunt even though the FBI quickly gets involved in the case. It’s about how a young girl’s life can be fractured by deceit, and even a normal, healthy family might not offer enough support to help her heal.
Watching Owen apologize to his daughter for not protecting her from the outside world is as emotionally crushing as any movie sequence this year.
The British actor keeps reminding us he’s far more than a runner-up in the Bond sweepstakes.