He only plays with expectations in the opening sequence, giving the film an air of a trendy teen chick flick. Fresh-faced kid Annie (Liana Liberato) blends herself a smoothie backed by sprightly pop music and messages her friends about upcoming volleyball tryouts. The unspoken dialogue pops up in candy-coloured subtitles and even a little bit of innuendo from one of her guy pals seems all in good fun. Clearly, Annie has no shortage of friends, but as we spend more time with her - in what appear to be loosely scripted scenes around the dinner table - she begins to come across as slightly reserved, especially when talking about a boy she has met online.
Charlie, as he calls himself, is like a phantom that haunts the first half-an-hour or so, appearing only in subtitles and emoticons. He claims to be the same age and a keen volleyball player, but the mood darkens as his language becomes more personal, flattering Annie on her looks and luring her in with a series of small revelations designed to prepare her for the inevitable realisation that he is more than twice her age. It's a carefully measured build-up to the point when they finally meet at a shopping mall. Annie bursts into tears from the shock of seeing him (Chris Henry Coffey) in the slightly wrinkled flesh, but one ice-cream later, she's in his hotel room, trying on lingerie.
This cut from innocence to adulthood feels like slightly too big a leap, especially because it risks underestimating the shrewd nature of a paedophile willing to spend months grooming his prey. It's a jarring note (as is the epilogue) in an otherwise scrupulously pieced chain of events. Schwimmer never stoops to sensationalism though, taking his cue from Annie and her matter-of-fact interpretation of things. This is where the film takes a firmer grip, because Annie fails to accept that she has been abused. She thinks it's love, even as the FBI and a psychiatrist become involved to convince her otherwise. Her defiance adds more fuel to a fire blazing in the pit of dad's stomach.
Liberato gives a mature turn, conveying the innocence and blind fury of teenage rebellion, yet with a faltering stance that hints at self-doubt. Still, it's Owen who energises the film, his every muscle flexed with tension. Catherine Keener calms the waters as mum, without undermining her own sense of loss. Dad would naturally have a tougher time accepting the sexualisation of his daughter in any context and, given his growing frustration with Annie, there is a danger that Owen could be unsympathetic in the role. The opposite is true and it's as much a credit to Schwimmer who draws out this tangle of mixed emotions, especially in the penultimate scene. What breaks your heart is the purity of intent of both dad and daughter, each wanting to trust again and wondering how.
What do you think of the movie? Share your views