' ' Cinema Romantico: Some Drivel On...The Trust

Tuesday, August 09, 2022

Some Drivel On...The Trust

There is a moment late in “The Trust” (2016) when a complicated heist being pulled by a pair of renegade cops including Lt. Jim Stone (Nicolas Cage) hits a snag. What will they do? “I have an idea,” offers Stone, “it’s kind of wacky.” Because this is Nicolas Cage, you might be able to imagine how he says the line, especially if you have encountered a Nicolas Cage meme. He tilts his head back just a little, his eyes bug ever so slightly, and even though “WACKY” deserves to be capitalized because Cage emphasizes it so much, his emphasis is more of an emphatic whisper, Randy of “Valley Girl” filtered through the police academy. Of course, because you can imagine exactly how Cage says this line is also why it’s so predictable, the movie’s most unfortunately defining moment, the one where Cage falls back on the tics his adoring social media-specific public expects only because he is not sure what else to do. Indeed, Alex and Benjamin Brewer’s thriller winds up in a kind of reverse “Alice in Wonderland” situation where the more formulaic it is, the more fresh it feels, and the more perplexing it strives to be, the more perfunctory it becomes. 

Notes of “The Trust’s” occasional rudimentary recipe can be detected straight away in the opening shot of Detective David Waters (Elijah Wood) lying comatose in a bed as a woman pleasures him, the juxtaposition very obviously meant to underline the character’s emptiness within. There is something more fascinating in cross-cutting to Jim as he gets ready for work, Cage’s air denoting a joy in his occupation despite the inherent contradictions on display when a superior requests that Jim, who works in evidence management, sets aside some of that more extravagant evidence for a family member. Listen to and look at the way in which Cage has his character observe an ash tray at the crime scene, deeming it “unique,” a line reading and moment suggestive of someone who finds unexpected pleasure in his job while remaining open to unlikely details, illuminating why the character might notice a low-level drug dealer being bailed out with a significant amount of cash.

That is what prompts Jim to enlist the passive David in their own surveillance of this dealer after his release and discovering he and his underworld associates move merchandise to a building but never move it back out, prompting plans for a heist to grab all that is there. Throughout the planning stages, the Brothers Brewer maintain a jovial tone, in comic scenes of Jim posing as a hotel worker and deploying a bad German accent (this is not my judgement; the movie itself is saying the accent is bad) to buy a special drill from Deutschland. That tone stays in step with Cage’s truly deft performance that improbably suggests Denzel Washington’s Detective Alonzo Harris of “Training Day” remixed as John C. Reilly’s Officer Jim Kurring of “Magnolia.” And while Wood manages a nice comic chemistry with Cage, his own character’s semi-awakening never feels convincing or interesting, paling in comparison to Cage’s blend of nice guy and outlaw.

This blend, it’s so evocative, so unexpected, that “The Trust” never knows what to do with it – nay, probably had no idea what it was getting in the first place, indebted to follow its screenplay and finally, eventually, as the duo’s heist through a ceiling from above where the loot is stashed in some not-quite-impenetrable safe runs into various complications, essentially loses sight of the character and winds up merely moving him out of the way. The Brothers Brewer ultimately dangles several questions that never get resolved, straining for profundity through empty enigmas. The real enigma here is Lt. Jim Stone, too peculiar for this world, too peculiar for this movie. When David criticizes Jim for dressing like a cop, the latter incredulously replies “I am a cop,” Cage paradoxically evoking his character as an unsolvable riddle by playing him as an open book. 

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