Synopsis: Sword of Trust opens with Cynthia (Jillian Bell) and Mary (Michaela Watkins) returning to the countryside to sift through the remnants of Cynthia’s late grandfather’s belongings. In town Mel (Marc Maron) and Nathaniel (Jon Bass) run a small pawn shop. The two parties meet when Cynthia and Mary try to pawn a left behind sword that Cynthia’s grandfather claimed was proof of the South winning the American Civil War. Hilarity ensues as the groups team up and attempt to sell this old relic to a third party. (3/5 stars)
Review by FF2 Intern Anika Guttormson
Director Lynn Shelton delivers a hilarious improvisational comedy in her newest film Sword of Trust. Upon hearing the news that her grandfather has passed Cynthia returns to her grandfather’s countryside home with her girlfriend Mary in order to sift through his remaining estate. The two are hoping to inherit a large sum of money but are shocked to discover that Cynthia’s grandfather had sold his home in private, leaving Cynthia with little more than a Civil War era sword. They are handed a handwritten note written in Cynthia’s late grandfathers script that explains that the sword was gifted by a Northern general to a Southern general during the American Civil War as a means of surrendering. The implication of this note is that the South actually won the Civil War; something that the two women view with a skeptical eye.
The women are distrustful of the letter but decided to see how much they can sell this artifact for. Here they meet Mel, the owner of the towns paws shop, and Nathaniel, his young employee, who decide to help the women sell the sword after hearing of collector named Hog Jaws (Toby Huss). Jaws offers a grand total of 40,000$ to Mel if he can produce the sword, thus leading the group down a path of poorly acted deceit, hilarious encounters, and a sprinkling of genuinely moving moments as they journey together to sell the sword.
Sword of Trust is carried by a cast that has a deep understanding of improvisation and what it takes to make an audience laugh. Few moments of the film itself was actually scripted, which allowed its star players, Michaela Watkins and Marc Maron in particular, to really flex their improvisational chops. Laughs abound in scenes where Cynthia and Mary attempt to trick Mel and Nathaniel into believing the swords alleged history as the two stumble through poorly memorized accounts of the swords backstory, making up the names of generals and various locations (the Chick-a-poo battle being a recurring, nonexistent, battle).
While these actors certainly showed off their comedic chops, they also wowed in the more serious scenes of the film. When the four travel together they are given the opportunity to share their pasts with each other and reflect on what they each want to do with the money from their sale. The love between Cynthia and Mary feels tangible as they share their love story with the group. When Mel dives into his troubled past Maron is able to infuse his speech with genuine self-loathing, a desire for change, and a deep sense of regret, all while maintaining the awkwardness that one would have when revealing such hard truths to strangers. It’s truly impressive to watch actors with such a command of human emotions.
The biggest fault of Sword of Trust is it’s low-stakes plot. None of the characters are particularly strapped for cash, so their desire to put themselves in harms way by making a deal with an angry Civil War era memorabilia collector boils down to a fascination with the unknown. The four essentially endure death threats and unsafe conditions for the chance to see behind the curtain of those who sincerely believe that the South won the Civil War. As an audience member, this lack of narrative drive was extremely distracting and disappointing, as it could have been easily remedied by simply implying that some of the characters are in need of money and therefore willing to risk more for the sake of selling this sword.
The characters also never seem to question the morality of their actions. The ramifications of stocking Civil War deniers in the south with the ammunition needed to convert more people into believing that the South actually won the Civil War are more far reaching than the characters seem to realize. Of all the characters, Mel seems to be the only one who is actively disgusted by Hog Jaws, while the rest treat him like someone who is deeply misguided but ultimately harmless. As an audience member I was surprised that the characters didn’t spend more time reprimanding Hog Jaws or the other Civil War deniers they met.
Despite its slightly uneven footing, Sword of Trust still delivers laugh after laugh from a cast of talented and capable actors. Lynn Shelton delivers once again in this indie film for the ages.
© Anika Guttormson (8/1/19) FF2 Media
Photo Credits: IMDB
Q: Does Sword of Trust pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?
Yes. There are conversations between Cynthia and Mary where they discuss their love for each other and plan their future.