In Focus: Trust

'In Focus: Trust'



In Focus is our chance to look a little closer at some of our favorite films. This edition of In Focus highlights one of our Valentine’s Day favorites, Trust (1990). If you have time, check out our recent Pause It for the film too! Hal Hartley’s second feature film, Trust was shot in 11 days on location in Long Island.

Is trust a necessary foundation for love? Or is trust an acceptable replacement for love in its entirety?

Trust is a case of a film whose title guides us to discovering the complex yet simple themes at play in it. We’ll avoid giving away too much detail about what happens in the film, because it really does need to be experienced, not just watched. A wonderful example of independent American cinema, Trust is a beautiful conversion of raw emotion realism and perfectly crafted stylistic artifice.



“A family’s like a gun. You point it in the wrong direction, you’re going to kill somebody.”

“It’s kind of warm for this time of year, don’t you think?”
“Damage to the ozone.”
“What is that?”
“Where the hell have you been the last ten years?”

“I respect and admire you.”
“Isn’t that love?”
“No, that’s respect and admiration.”

“I’ll marry you if you admit that respect, admiration, and trust equals love.”


Hal Hartley directed, wrote, and produced the film. Hal Hartley was one of the icons of American independent filmmaking in the 1990s, with Trust often considered to be the film that put him on the map. Born to a family of ironworkers in Lindenhurst, Hartley and his films are to Long Island what Linklater’s are to Austin. He usually writes and directs his projects, and he leaves his auteur’s mark with deadpan, deliberate dialogue and characters on the cusp of counterculture.

Adrienne Shelly stars as Maria Coughlin. Shelly rose to independent film fame with Hartley, starring in his first two films, The Unbelievable Truth and Trust. One of the most promising young actresses of the 90s, she was able to pursue her love of directing by the end of the decade with her first features, Sudden Manhattan (1996) and I’ll Take You There (1999). Following her tragic murder in 2006, her widower established a non-profit organization awarding scholarships to aspiring female filmmakers in her name. Although her career was cut short, her fans remember her talent and the quirky poise that marked her performances.

Martin Donovan  stars as Matthew Slaughter. Martin Donovan and Hal Hartley’s long working relationship began when Hartley and Shelly discovered him during a stage performance. About Hartley, he said, “Hal and I are close friends. I understand his language, his humor, his film language, what he is trying to say. I tell actors who are new to Hal–this is more like dance. It’s not acting naturalistically, it’s carefully choreographed. Gestures are important and specific gestures are very important.” Watching Donovan’s performance in Trust, you can get a sense of just what this means.

Edie Falco plays Maria’s sister, Peg. Perhaps one of the more recognizable actors in the film, she also came to the public’s attention through her work with Hartley, first on The Unbelievable Truth and then Trust. She became a more household name during her long tenures on acclaimed series The Sopranos and Nurse Jackie.


“Like the films of this 31-year-old writer and director, Mr. Hartley’s characters look realistic, act cockeyed and turn out to be just right.” — Caryn James, The New York Times

“Within its small, darkly funny range, Trust is an exceptional film that stays alert to the mysteries of love.” — Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

“Hartley is truly someone to get excited about. His movies have their own sure, distinctive voice; though you can trace his sources and track the genesis of his style, his movies aren’t like any you’ve ever seen before.” — Hal Hinson, Washington Post

“From the very beginning of Trust, Hal Hartley’s spellbinding second feature, snotty naïveté and cultured cynicism intertwine and dance in locked, hypnotic two-step.” — Chris Cabin, Slant

Trust is available from Olive Films on DVD and Blu-ray.

We encourage you to share with us your thoughts on Trust by leaving us a comment on Facebook, Letterboxd, Twitter, or emailing If we like what you have to say, we’ll add it to this page.

In Focus Archive:


February 22, 2017

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