I like Clark Gregg the actor. Seriously, what’s not to like? Granted, I only have a limited exposure to him, mostly through his Marvel Cinematic Universe work as Agent Phil Coulson (Okay, and his two episodes in Sports Night were quite amazing). It doesn’t hurt he often plays likable characters, even his portrayal of badasses is tinged with a genial good guy vibe. He comes across as the kind of guy who, while he might not lend you fifty bucks, at least he’d feel really bad about not lending it to you.
Who I didn’t know before catching this film was Clark Gregg the writer and director. And to be fair, I like him almost as much as the actor. Maybe even more. This is the first time we’re getting the whole Gregg package, too. Yes. he’s written and directed a film before, but that was an adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk‘s Choke. Gregg’s last foray into an original screenplay was for Zemeckis‘ What Lies Beneath, in which Gregg didn’t even appear as an actor. But with Trust Me, we get the complete vision, and wow, was it worth waiting for.
Trust Me is a low budget film about a former child star turned kids agent named Howard Holloway (Gregg) who is a perennial loser. The film opens (aside from a brief in media res scene which we’ll come back to) with Howard losing the biggest client he’s had in a while to his arch nemesis, Aldo (A wonderfully under played Sam Rockwell). Howard is driving a beat up POS, he’s got last year’s model of everything, and a driving, if almost smarmy, desire for people to like him, especially his neighbor Marcy (Amanda Peet, who is always good). Instantly, Gregg the writer sets up the situation and packs more character background and depth into 5 minutes than most writers can accomplish in an hour. We understand that Howard may be a loser (a fact of which he, as he informs us later with the line “I lose a lot.” is quite cognizant) but he’s a loser who actually cares. Underneath the false sincerity is a real sincerity and that is not easy to pull off as an actor.
Performance wise, though, Gregg is not alone in the talent department. Aside from the already mentioned Rockwell and Peet, Gregg is able to fill out his cast with the likes of Allison Janney, Molly Shannon and the husband and wife pairing of Felicity Huffman and William H. Macy. But the most impressive cast member is the relatively unknown Saxon Sharbino (at least she was when this was filmed) as the new client who is the cause and catalyst for everything else in the story.
As a director, Gregg started the tension high with our main character, Howard, lying injured on the street and speaking to us in voiceover about rebirth and redemption until we jump back to an unspecified time and the film begins in earnest. Over the next 90 minutes, Director Gregg never eases up on the tension. While the film is billed as a comedy there are very actual laughs. The “comedy” instead comes from an almost absurdist point of view which gets darker and darker as the film progresses until, just before the end, Gregg actually slips the entire thing seamlessly into film noir, complete with a Veronica Lake-ish femme fatale who stands in the shadows, her face only illuminated by the match lighting her cigarette. There are few moments where we, as audience, are not concerned for Howard and what might possibly befall him next. Gregg is able to invoke feelings of dread and unease as we watch Howard stumble along his life.
Part of that might be the slight magical realism flourishes he inserts (a butterfly randomly showing up, a nose which spontaneously begins to bleed) but on second viewing, those elements become metaphors, physical representations of internal changes.
Overall, this was an unexpected treat. It’s already slotted in to a position in my 2014 top ten.