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Review: ‘Trash’ transcends Rio’s garbage dumps to become an intense political thriller

A scene from the film "Trash."

A scene from the film “Trash.”

The specters of “Slumdog Millionaire” and “City of God” haunt the Rio garbage dumps instrumental to “Trash,” an intensive, propulsive political thriller representing a tautly executed return to form for director Stephen Daldry.

After discovering a red wallet amid all the rubbish freshly dumped in their vast slum landfill, three teenage trash-pickers (Rickson Tevís, Eduardo Luís and Gabriel Weinstein) find themselves targeted by a sadistic cop (Selton Mello) who’ll stop at nothing to see the wallet’s return to a corrupt congressman (Stepan Nercessian).

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Despite receiving some assistance by a pair of world-weary missionaries (Martin Sheen and Rooney Mara), the boys must essentially fend for themselves as they attempt to discover the meaning behind scrawled numbers found in that wallet.

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Although Andy Mulligan’s original YA novel did not specify the story’s location, screenwriter Richard Curtis, better known for his comedies, gives the film a much richer flavor and color by choosing the Brazilian backdrop.

Daldry, who followed “Billy Elliot,” “The Hours” and “The Reader” with 2012’s mawkish “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” takes that vivid Rio palette and literally runs with it. The compelling film, like its energetic young stars, is in constant motion. Although the nominally gritty tone occasionally gives way to the director’s weakness for the theatrical, the film is rooted by that trio of engagingly authentic performances.

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“Trash”

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MPAA rating: R for violence, language.

Running time: 1 hour, 57 minutes.

Playing: Sundance Sunset, Los Angeles. Also on VOD.

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