WORD OF TRUST is a low budget American comedy co-written by director Lynn Shelton and Mike O’Brien that includes improvisation from the actors. The premise is the SWORD OF TRUST of the film title, an actual sword.
When Cynthia (Jillian Bell) and Mary (Michaela Watkins) show up to collect Cynthia’s inheritance from her deceased grandfather, the only item she’s received is (no house) an antique sword that he believed to be proof that the South won the Civil War. The sword comes with two items of authenticity, a certificate and a painting that stands for a photograph. The script takes pains to make all this believable, as it is the reason that all incidents that follow that place.
The two attempt to unload the object to a curmudgeonly pawnshop owner Mel (Marc Maron, “GLOW”) and his man-child sidekick Nathaniel (Jon Bass, Molly’s Game). After it becomes clear that the film centres on these four, the film starts taking hold of the audience’s interest.
When Mel and Nathaniel discover there’s a black market for the relic, the two pairs reluctantly join forces to sell this rarefied ‘prover item’ to the highest bidder. The adventure that ensues takes the four of them on a wild journey into the depths of conspiracy theory and Southern disillusionment.
It is difficult to tell what is improvised and what is written in the script. This is a good thing as the film and story flows smoothly throughout most the film.
The films starts running into trouble in the last third. The chemistry among the four begin to wear off. The singular jokes of Nathaniel being a man child, Mel being a radical grumpy codger made good and Cynthia and Mary having a same-sex relationship get tiresome. Adding more story to the plot and the introduction of more characters in the third part signals Shelton’s desperation to get her film on track.
Director Shelton gives herself a cameo as Mel’s ex-lover, a dog addict who never quite get her act in life together. She shows herself apt in dramatic comedy improvisation and is a pleasure to watch.
The best thing about SWORD OF TRUST are the individual personalities on display. Each eccentric is ‘special’ in his and her own way. Each of the four actors are able to create uniques characters of distinct imperfections and strengths. Their interaction with each other works well. But by pitting them together in a plot that involves hitmen, con men and crooks ultimately destroys what has been carefully created. Director Shelton has made similar small films like the YOUR SISTER’S SISTER and the more recent HUMPDAY.
SWORD OF TRUST works well for the most part but fizzles out of steam at the end, once the tired antics of the characters grow tiresome. It is still encouraging to watch small films like SWORD OF TRUST given a chance in the market where blockbusters like THE LION KING which opens the same week dominate,