Review: Lynn Shelton's 'Sword Of Trust' Has Sharp Humor, But Doesn't Cut Too Deep

Lynn Shelton couldn't have made Sword of Trust any other time but now in our "alternative facts", conspiracy theory society when bullshit has eroded "away the real truth" as one character puts it. Not that Shelton takes on this point head-on; she sort of circles the wagons around it, but that wagon is being driven by a quartet of instantly-likable, flawed, funny characters played by an ensemble capable of mining a madcap premise for all it's worth.

Sword of Trust is led, in a sense, by Marc Maron, whose neuroses and self-deprecating humor are key to understanding his character, Mel. A New Mexico transplant who now owns a small pawn shop in Birmingham, Alabama, Mel just wants to get through the day without being too annoyed by his lunk-headed assistant Nathaniel (Baywatch's Jon Bass), or drawn back into the life of his ex (played by Shelton), who he shares a chaotic, drug-fueled past with. When lesbian couple Cynthia (Jillian Bell) and Mary (Michaela Watkins) turn up with a Civil War-era sword they claim proves the Confederacy really defeated the Union army, he's naturally suspicious. That the women can barely keep their stories straight is another issue. But a brief tour through the darkest corners of the Internet unveils a vast swath of tinfoil-hat wearing skeptics who believe the South really did emerge victories but it's been suppressed by history. To them, a sword proving they were right would be very valuable. They decide to go in on selling the item and taking these racists for as much as possible, even if it validates some truly heinous beliefs.

One of Shelton's great gifts is her ability to take a bizarre, truly unbelievable idea and make it feel genuine. She's done that yet again with Sword of Trust, which gets truly weird as these four people descend into a rabbit hole of white supremacy and paranoia. Despite that, it never gets too big or spins out of control, instead maintaining a tight, personal focus on the lead characters. True to fashion, Shelton finds the best, most sincere moments at the eye of the storm. In this case, it's in the back of a shady box truck where all four are being driven to a mysterious location, possibly to their doom. In those moments of nervous uncertainty, the guards are lowered and people start talking. Mel reveals the regret he still holds over his past, while Cynthia and Mary contemplate a future secure enough to solidify their lives together. None of this stuff has anything to do with the sword or its veracity, but it feels so true that it doesn't even matter.

Similar to Shelton's sex comedy Humpday, the actors are given a tight story outline and allowed to basically freestyle the dialogue. Fortunately, everyone is in top form and each scene is snappy with funny one-liners and banter. Maron really comes off great here, his prickly side covering up for a sensitive heart.  Bell also continues to impress as she moves into more complex roles beyond the comedic stuff she's known for. Everyone plays off of one another so well you forget that most of it is ad-libbed, and even the smaller parts (played by Dan Bakkedahl as a kingpin of conspiracy theorists, Toby Huss as his assistant Hog Jaws) compliment the whole.

There's an acknowledgement by Shelton of her film's timeliness, but she doesn't do much to dig beneath the surface. A few years ago we would've thought it absurd a movie about an underground network of racists who believe the South really prevailed, but today...well, it's not so implausible. It would've been great if Shelton could've done more with that, however that's not what Sword of Trust is about. It's about these four people, who meet under unusual circumstances and have a life-changing experience just when they need it most.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5