I think I speak for most of us when I say that we love Nic Cage and also that we don’t necessarily trust Nic Cage when he appears in a new VOD/extremely limited release movie. He ends up in a bunch of pretty mediocre thrillers, you don’t always know if he’s gonna add some spice with his mega powers or play it straight, and even if it’s an interesting movie in its own right it might end up being kind of a mess like Paul Schrader’s disowned THE DYING OF THE LIGHT did. Or at least that’s the fear.
Luckily I thought I remembered somebody saying this one was pretty good, so I gave it a shot, and it was the right choice.
Most of Cage’s movies are pretty serious, even if he’s funny in them. THE TRUST has an actual sense of humor. It opens with another character, Waters (Elijah Wood, GRAND PIANO), laying in bed, staring blankly. Then we see that a blond hooker is riding him. He’s not into it. He’s staring at a mole under her breast. Afterwards he’s leaving cash on the bedside table and we see him consider taking back one of the tens. But then he gives it to her. So he’s not too bad.
Waters is a cop for the Las Vegas Police Department, but he acts more like a a stoner fuckup on the verge of being fired from a coffee shop or something. He shows up to the crime scene late, clumsily hops the fence and hopes everybody thinks he’s been there for a while. Then he kind of hangs out more than works, sitting on a bed fucking around with a drum machine in front of its angry, handcuffed owner.
Stone (Cage) actually has been there all morning, and he’s an evidence gatherer with a nerdy passion for his job. It’s comic schlub Cage with a mustache, and he gets to alternate between deadpan and mega.
You know how it is in movies: their lives change because of a random twist of fate. What Stone would like to be doing is setting up a new state of the art mobile crime lab. Instead, his captain (Kenna James) tells him it’s too expensive and sends him on a stupid, probly unethical task of getting a repossessed John Deere for his son-in-law, and while he’s there he stumbles across evidence of a major crime.
Recruiting young Waters to work for him off-the-books, the two use real detective work to follow a trail of money to the location of a secret vault, and they decide to plan a heist. Stone seems to see Waters as a shady character who will know how to do shady stuff, and Waters I think assumes Stone, being his boss and having come up with the proposition, might sort of know what he’s doing. But both are pretty amateur.
Even when Stone does come through surprisingly well he’s still liable to make Waters worry about his character by being a weirdo and making bad jokes at the wrong times. For example, shortly after he kills a man, they’re about to drill into a floor RIFIFI style, and he says…
This is the directorial debut of a young directing team of Alex and Benjamin Brewer. It’s not because they’re brothers, I swear, but there are aspects that remind me of the Coens: confident use of camera moves and music, perfectly cast bit characters who get to be really funny, a knack for clever goofiness in the middle of a gritty crime story. There are the type of weird little story and character moments that I like, like when Waters discovers cat shit in his kitchen, he pulls out a dress belonging to an ex-wife that left recently enough to still have a box of her things at his place. He stops to smell the dress, then uses it to pick up the shit.
Stone has all kinds of quirks and goofball moments, a bunch of them confirmed on the commentary track as Cage’s ideas. Many actors might come up with a bit of business to do while examining the layout of the building they’re going to take over – lighting a cigarette, eating something – but only Cage would be covering his nose in thick white sunblock. Stone kind of talks to Waters like he’s a dorky dad who thinks he can be cool. But also sometimes like a wrestling coach who he shouldn’t be spending time outside of school with. He says the internet abbreviation “jk” out loud and has inspirational sayings about positivity. He’s generally more optimistic than Waters even though his living situation is sadder: he lives with his elderly dad (Jerry Lewis!) who’s incapable of having a real conversation with him.
One little acting detail I love is when Stone is meeting a guy to buy guns, the car pulls up and he cranes his neck to stare inside the car to make sure it’s the person he’s waiting for. Subtle touch of realism that makes him look less cool than your usual movie heister.
Stone does his own undercover mission, he gets a job at a casino to find information. In a montage we see that he really ingratiates himself with his co-workers. They’re all sitting around shooting the shit, maybe on a lunch break or something, and he’s holding court, doing a funny dance for them. I love the way they wave him away when he’s snooping around an illegal shipment he’s not supposed to know about. They don’t treat it like a serious security breach, more like a kid cluelessly stumbling into an adult video store and the adults have to hustle him out of there before he notices the dicks on the boxes.
When Waters teases him about the job he defends it. With tips he gets more than he does as a cop. I wondered if the heist didn’t work out if maybe he’d just quit the force and stay at the casino.
There are a bunch of great gags early on, like the one where something happens in a crime scene while Stone and the captain are outside talking about mundane bullshit.
But what impresses me most about these Brewers is their control of an unusual, unexpected tonal shift. They start in a cynical comedy mode with quirky characters and funny lines but then all the sudden there’s a scene where Waters has to go with a detective (Ethan Suplee, who played Harry Knowles in the movie FANBOYS, but I don’t think I got to his scene because I couldn’t get very far into that movie) to steal money from a drug factory – basically the good bad cop to Suplee’s bad bad cop – and both the bystanders’ terror and Waters’ sympathy for them are played very real.
As the heist comes together there seems to be a slow tightening of the screws and it becomes more and more serious, eventually transforming into a bleak and effectively uncomfortable thriller. Once there’s a death and Waters has to participate in the unlawful confinement of a terrified witness (Sky Ferreira, THE GREEN INFERNO) it’s like a sobering cold shower and we’re stuck in this horrible mistake with him. There are many close calls including the regular ones (a patrol car comes by and Waters has to convince him everything’s okay) to weird ones (a belt on the drill wears out and they don’t have another one). Waters has to worry about Stone being a dangerous psycho and an incompetent boob.
I was impressed enough that I wanted to find out who these Brewers are. Turns out they’re young guys, not even 30 yet, who started in music videos and commercials. They won an MTV award for a Justin Bieber video. Here’s a good interview with them that reveals that the most classically mega moment (when Cage yells “OPEN IT!” eleven times in a row) was a director suggestion. So they know what they’re doing.
I guess this got pretty poor reviews and not many people know to see it, but I’ll predict right now that in a couple years the Brewer brothers will make something good that will catch on and then people will go back and discover this one and forget anybody ever said it was bad. A very promising start from these boys in my opinion.
VERN has a new action-horror novel out called WORM ON A HOOK! He has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the film criticism books Seagalogy: A Study of the Ass-Kicking Films of Steven Seagal and Yippee Ki-Yay Moviegoer!: Writings on Bruce Willis, Badass Cinema and Other Important Topics as well as the crime novel Niketown.