The last few years have been hard on Nicolas Cage fans. The Oscar winner was arguably the most commanding and entertaining leading man of the nineties, collaborating with the Coen Brothers, John Woo, Martin Scorsese, David Lynch and Ridley Scott, just to name a few. Yet in the last decade he has slipped into mediocrity, appearing in movies of little merit. While some of this trashy fare I personally found enjoyable (Stolen, Trespass, Drive Angry), efforts like Left Behind or Season of the Witch are bottom of the barrel terrible and Cage is awful in them. For every ten movies of this period (Cage is prolific), there is a great film like 2009’s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans or 2013’s Joe to remind one why the actor was so likeable in the first place. However, these are too few and far between. Taking all this into consideration, it gives me joy to report that the actor’s latest The Trust is quite good and Cage is on top form.
A blend between a cop/heist thriller and a dark comedy, Cage plays the quirky, fed-up, tabasco and lemon chewing Lieutenant Jim Stone, who along with his equally dispossessed sergeant, David (Elijah Wood), discovers a drug-dealers vault. The two decide to rob it, but Stone’s strange sense of humour and violent behaviour buts heads with David’s increasing anxiety, leading to conflict.
It’s difficult to tell whether Ben Brewer and Adam Hirsch’s script fits perfectly with Cage’s eccentric style of acting or if Cage brought the loony humour to the role. Either way, unlike many of the actor’s recent efforts, his trademark of implementing strange behavioural ticks is more subdued here, and when he does utilise them it is genuinely funny or unsettling. For the first time, in what feels like ages, Cage is well-cast. Stone isn’t a womanizer or a legendary hitman or an ancient warrior. He is a strange character, past his prime, something Cage has always portrayed well as evident by Bad Lieutenant.
Wood, who post-Lord of the Rings has really embraced his sleazier side in films such as Maniac, excels as both a straight-man for Cage’s lunacy but also as a man breaking the law just to escape the malaise of his daily life. The film opens with Wood’s character having dispassionate sex with a prostitute. This detachment extends to David’s police-work as he laughs when a perp jumps from a closet and evades fellow officers. Later, when Stone asks him to be a part of his heist, David replies yes, stating: “Only because I have nothing better to do and I truly despise my job”.
When the two lead characters perform the heist, the comedy becomes muted as events begin to take a more sinister turn. However, what is impressive about The Trust is that there is little tonal imbalance. In fact, the comedy of the first half of the movie serves to almost emphasise the tension of the second.
As the film nears its climax, its flaws become more apparent. Although I love downbeat, grim endings in these types of thrillers (on which The Trust somewhat delivers), the logic by a certain character (revealing who would be a spoiler) that enables the film to reach its bleak conclusion is weak. Also, the movie doesn’t possess the depth of a classic heist film such as Rififi (of which The Trust pays multiple homages). For example, when Stone tells David, “We’re in the heart of the American dream”, it’s hard to tell if it’s an offbeat one-liner or whether the filmmakers think they are actually discussing the notion of the American dream. If the latter is true, I can’t really see how in terms of what’s transpired up until that point.
However, despite these qualms the film is still a cut above average. Unlike a lot of straight-to-DVD or VOD fare, The Trust looks quite stylish. Directors Alex and Ben Brewer began in music video directing and know how to create interesting visuals, such as David cycling a bike around a police evidence room. Also worth noting is the night-time scenes, featuring heavily neon-lit bars and fluid camera-work, which create an almost woozy sense of place in regards to the seedy and slightly intoxicating L.A. setting.
Funny, tense and engaging, The Trust suffers from a lack of depth, but features fine work from its two leads and serves as a good calling card for its directors.
Trailer for the film below