Stephen Daldry‘s latest feature film, set among the garbage heaps of Rio de Janeiro, belongs to its youthful, non-professional cast. Trash (2014) opens with Jose Angelo (Wagner Moura) hurriedly packing. As he attempts to flee his apartment he is cornered by cops. Before his arrest, he throws a large wallet into a passing rubbish truck. The next day, fourteen-year-old Rafael (Rickson Tevez) finds the wallet while foraging in his local dump. He has no idea that it will change his destiny and that of his two friends, fellow rubbish-pickers Gardo (Luis Eduardo) and Rato (Gabriel Weinstein). Soon the police start sniffing around their favela, offering an award for the wallet’s safe return.
Rafael realises that he’s found something worth hanging on to. Jose Angelo’s wallet contains money, a key and a miniature flip book displaying the photograph of a young girl. With the help of Gardo and Rato, he sets out on a journey to discover what it all means and whether more money might be involved. Rato recognises that the key belongs to a set of lockers in a train station. Inside one, the boys find a letter addressed to a man detained in prison. They enlist the help of two Americans living in the favela, Father Julliard (Martin Sheen) and Olivia (Rooney Mara) a volunteer English teacher in order to gain access to the prison. Here they meet Clemente (Nelson Xavier), Jose Angelo’s uncle who, on hearing their story, realises that his nephew must be dead.
Meanwhile, it’s apparent that a substantial amount of money is involved. Rafael’s refusal to cooperate, incurs the wrath of local cop Frederico (Selton Mello), who is working on the orders of a ruthless politician, mayoral candidate Antonio Santos (Stepan Nercessian). Narrowly escaping death at the hands of Frederico’s thugs, Rafael hears Santos’ name and realises that he may be connected to the wallet. Adriano Goldman’s cinematography does an excellent job of conveying the frenetic pace of the various chase scenes. Further clues are hidden in passages from the Bible and this quickly becomes a race between the young trio and Frederico as to who will solve the mystery first. An upbeat denouement, the dropping of numerous clues and Richard Curtis’ busy script, based on Andy Mulligan’s novel, occasionally feels a little formulaic, but this is tempered by the luminous performances of the three boys; all making their film debuts. Daldry has a rare talent, evident in his feature film directorial debut, Billy Elliot (2000), for drawing out the very best from young actors. The sheer joy and energy of the boys propels Trash and keeps us rooting for good over evil despite the contrived ending.