“Trust Me”: Nice agents finish last?

As the old cliché goes, Clark Gregg is one of those actors whose name audiences may not know but whose face they will recognize. Especially for his recurring role as Agent Phil Coulson in various permutations of the Marvel comics-derived big- and little-screen versions of The Avengers, Thor, Iron Man, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., et al. Gregg similarly played FBI Special Agent Michael Casper in The West Wing. But in Trust Me, Gregg plays an agent of a different sort – a Hollywood talent agent. And not only that, in addition to starring in this indie, Gregg wrote and directed it.

As Howard Holloway, Gregg portrays what may be his most science fiction, hard to believe character yet: An actors’ agent with a heart of gold, in the tradition of Woody Allen’s Broadway Danny Rose. Not only does he have his clients’ interests at heart, but to stretch credulity even further, Holloway accepts only a ten percent commission. (I find Thor’s Mjölnir magic hammer or radioactive spiders turning teens into superheroes with a bite to be easier to swallow than that.) Be that as it may, Holloway – a former child actor who focuses on recruiting and representing under-aged thespians – struggles to keep his head above water in a biz Trust Me depicts as being utterly ruthless.

In this drama which features a stellar cast and has some lighter moments, Holloway must contend with unscrupulous producers Agnes and Meg (Felicity Huffman, Allison Janney), mean manager Janice (Molly Shannon), demented dad Ray (Paul Sparks) and Howard’s doppelganger Aldo (Sam Rockwell). Aldo is a far more successful agent, probably because he’s a kleptomaniac schemer constantly trying to lure Holloway’s clients away from him.

In particular, Aldo is trying to steal Holloway’s latest find who is up for a plum lead role in a film slated to go franchise, 14-year-old Lydia (Saxon Sharbino, who will co-star in Sam Raimi’s 2015 Poltergeist remake). Will Lydia and her unstable father Ray stay true blue to Holloway or switch allegiances over to the flashier Aldo, who seems to be more of a power player in Tinseltown’s constellation?

Holloway scrapes by modestly: If you think it’s hard making a living as a talent, try living off of ten percent of what those artists earn, when they do find work. He seems to have difficulty clinching deals. Howard may be one of those individuals who are their own worst enemy. As a former child actor himself, at the risk of blowing the biggest deal of his career, he intervenes at the last minute to protect Lydia from – well, find out for yourself.

Anyway, in a subplot, the lonely Holloway woos solo mom neighbor Marcy (Amanda Peets). But even here the poor schnook must deal with contention – look for William Macy in a droll, totally shameless cameo at a car dealership.

It’s said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, but in Howard Holloway’s case it puts him on a path to heaven. Along the plot twists and turns (you just can’t trust those Hollywood big shots!) Trust Me leads to a magical realist dénouement that hearkens back to Agent Coulson’s special effects-laden superhero movies. Along the way, with this scathing indictment of the film industry Gregg lays bare the movie colony’s seamy side, and in doing so his Trust Me is in the tradition of Billy Wilder’s 1950 Sunset Boulevard and Robert Aldrich’s 1955 The Big Knife, based on Clifford Odets’ play. With Trust Me, Gregg proves that in addition to acting he is also a talented auteur, who has something to say about the importance of trust and doing the right thing in the midst of our corrupt world. Hurray for Hollywood!

Photo: “Trust Me.” Tribeca


Ed Rampell
Ed Rampell

Film historian and critic Ed Rampell was named after CBS broadcaster Edward R. Murrow because of his TV exposes of Sen. Joe McCarthy. Rampell majored in cinema at New York's Hunter College. After graduating, he lived in Tahiti, Samoa, Hawaii, and Micronesia, where he reported on the nuclear-free and independent Pacific movement for "20/20," Reuters, AP, Radio Australia, Newsweek, etc. He went on to co-write "The Finger" column for New Times L.A. and has written for many other publications, including Variety, Mother Jones, The Nation, Islands, L.A. Times, L.A. Daily News, Written By, The Progressive, The Guardian, The Financial Times, and AlterNet.

Rampell appears in the 2005 Australian documentary "Hula Girls, Imagining Paradise." He co-authored two books on Pacific Island politics, as well as two film histories: "Made In Paradise, Hollywood's Films of Hawaii and the South Seas" and "Pearl Harbor in the Movies." Rampell is the author of "Progressive Hollywood, A People's Film History of the United States." He is a co-founder of the James Agee Cinema Circle and one of L.A.'s most prolific film/theatre/opera reviewers.