SIFF Film Review – Trust Me
The movie industry can be a cruel, cutthroat place. Even worse is being a Hollywood agent. It’s a soul crushing, pride swallowing job where your success is predicated on the success of other people. Clark Gregg – who has been lifted into the mainstream as Agent Coulson in the Marvel films and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – has been a character actor for years. No doubt he’s had his fair share of dealing and negotiating with agents. So when he tackles writing, directing, and starring credits in Trust Me (2013), we can assume his depiction of them come with a level of authenticity. But oddly enough, what’s listed as a comedy has something much darker running underneath. This isn’t so much Jerry Maguire (1996) as it is Sunset Boulevard (1950).
Gregg plays Howard, a struggling agent trying to carve out his own place within the movie hierarchy. Once a child actor himself, Howard found his days in the spotlight well behind him. And so he settles for the next best thing: handling other child actors as their agent. He doesn’t exude much confidence though, as he rides around in a jalopy of a car and uses a broken Bluetooth earpiece because…well…don’t all agents wear earpieces? We first meet Howard in the middle of a crisis, losing his latest acting prodigy to his slimy nemesis, Aldo (Sam Rockwell).
Clark Gregg has an affable screen presence. He has this good guy nature about him, and portrays Howard as such. This runs as a contrast to Howard’s occupation. It must be a tough thing putting oneself as the middleman between the talent (who want to earn a lot money) and the big studios (who hesitate in paying them). We wonder how Howard is able to survive all this time, as his demeanor doesn’t quite match what he does for a living. Compare him to Sam Rockwell’s Aldo: a successful agent who will stop at nothing to poach off any potential client Howard may have. Rockwell plays Aldo as the type of person we would think makes it big in this world. This comes off as second nature for Rockwell, who’s played this character so often I’m sure he can do it in his sleep.
As a director, Gregg has a strong sense of detailing his character’s thoughts cinematically. We often see Howard drifting off, fantasizing about being rich, driving fancy cars, and showing off to all the people who may have doubted him. This is done through a number of inserts and slow motion sequences. While the intention is pretty heavy handed (the butterfly symbolism is everything but subtle), the point is still made. When Howard discovers Lydia (Saxon Sharbino), a talented young actress with a bright future, he starts seeing money signs (figuratively, of course). But Gregg has other goals in mind when it comes to Howard’s thought processes. He uses it as a foundation, building off of Howard’s fantasies to the point where we start to question if what he’s seeing is real or not.
Things take a turn as the plot progresses. What we thought was comedic starts turning very dark, with noir-like hints creeping in from the edges of the screen. Early scenes take place during the day, and latter scenes during the night. Some characters aren’t exactly who we thought they were, and Howard’s predicament develops in a much more dangerous way. A lot of the mystery involves Lydia’s father Ray (Paul Sparks), and what his intentions are for her in the movie business. Lydia is handpicked to star in Ang Lee’s latest vampire film based on a young adult novel (who wouldn’t want to see that movie?), but all that takes a backseat as Howard falls deeper into the rabbit hole of anxiety and tension. Worst of all, we aren’t sure if this is actually happening or if it’s all in his head.
A number of notable performers show up here (Felicity Huffman, Allison Janney, William H. Macy, Molly Shannon), but their roles are very small. William H. Macy’s character takes up a grand total of maybe six to eight lines, all within one scene. This can lead one to think their appearances here are a result of doing the writer/director a favor. Amanda Peet shows up in one of the larger supporting roles, as Howard’s neighbor and love interest Marcy. We don’t learn much of Marcy, other than being a single mother who was once a promising singer and now sells cars for a living. Peet does her best to give wit and charm to a fairly thin character, and her scenes with Gregg shows good onscreen chemistry.
Trust Me flounders at the end, relying on contrived plot twists and exaggerated imagery to get its particular message across. But with that said, I like Clark Gregg as a writer and director. He has a keen eye for tone and style, and knows how to tip the scales between humor and menace with ease. The accomplishment here lies in the anticipation of what he does next.
Also, be sure to checkout our interview with writer/director/star Clark Gregg from SIFF 2014.