You have to give Nicolas Cage (Face/Off) a fair shake. Just because he’s the direct-to-video ying to Steven Seagal’s yang, it doesn’t detract from his Oscar win or the balls out classics in his back catalogue. It doesn’t matter if most of his recent work is a bit trashy. You never for one moment get the impression he isn’t enjoying himself, and how many of us can say that about our day jobs? So stop clenching your anus the moment you see his balding head on the cover and start appreciating. Plus it’s a nice surprise when you actually find him in something that turns out to be good. Now is that what you gonna find in his 2016 adventure, The Trust? Well we’re gonna find out…
We’re in Vegas baby! No it’s not Con Air. While this is the town that made Cage famous, we’re focusing on the dark side of the city this time. There’s no bright casino lights, no J-Depp bendy-leg strutting about or Joe Pesci burying people in the desert. Instead we’re in the ‘burbs and the dark underbelly. Often you forget that actual human people live in Las Vegas, and they get up to the usual dodgy human shenanigans that needs to be regulated by the police. Cage is one such good guy – Lieutenant Jim Stone, a mustachioed by-the-book type who is in charge of the evidence management team of the LVPD.
He’s not quite CSI, but the guy who picks up after CSI. And he’s respected as much. The entire “evidence reclamation” department is a bit of a joke, and when he’s not being rebuked for making another cost/time-saving suggestion, he’s having to run errands for the “real police”. Stupid shit like saving some of the best swag from the police auctions. Even his Dad (Jerry Lewis – The King of Comedy) looks down on him; when Stone brings some overlooked evidence to his attention, the old man snorts “a real cop would know what to do with this without asking”.
It doesn’t help that his crew are a bunch of police washouts and no-hopers. Sergeant Dave Waters (Elijah Wood – Sin City) takes the cake as the biggest loser on the squad. We actually start with Waters. We’re treated to some funky intro music (courtesy of Reza Safinia – Birth of the Dragon), and we cut between Waters nonchalantly being ridden by some faceless, topless blonde woman and Stone getting ready for work. While Waters seemingly derives no joy from the experience, instead zeroing in on a mole beneath the girls boob, I too started thinking that it was immensely odd seeing Frodo in a sex scene. And with a woman as well. I always thought it was going to be some hurried liaison with Sam or a mass gang-rape by the ring (hehe, “ring”) wraiths.
Waters is a pot head which in the movies automatically makes him a screw up. His stinking attitude clearly cost him a wife, whose remaining clothes he uses to wipe up the piles of cat shit left scattered around his apartment. He equally hates his job too. During a drug bust he turns up late, high, and breaks out in giddy laughter when a hidden perp’ slips by him and the rest of the evidence goons. Sure he has a badge and wears a gun, but he isn’t really a cop. Nor does he want to be, which sets him apart from Stone. Stone wants to be taken seriously, but is considered a joke by everyone.
During a routine check of some paperwork, Stone comes across a bail receipt for $200 g’s, cash. This rings alarm bells, but no one wants to care. They caught the scumbag dealing dope. So what if he posted bail? After convincing Waters to look at it, they both recognize that no normal street dealer should be getting help from high heaven to the account of $200,000. With no one willing to help, Stone offers to pay Waters to take some holiday time and to track down the now free dealer, to crack the case.
He really should be pulling his shit together, Waters thinks of himself. But he has nothing better to do and he despises his job, so why not? After some sleuthing, he discovers the dealer working as a bus boy at a casino. Stone want’s to take him down kung fu strong style, but Waters reminds him that this isn’t even really an investigation. As a compromise Stone himself takes some night work at the casino, infiltrating the lower echelons of the service industry to get close to his guy. It’s actually really fun seeing him “Nicolas Cage” his way through these scenes. It does seem to break character but it’s worth it.
Eventually this leads him to a clandestine truck carrying shady materials. He tails it to a grocery store where he watches a drop off. After some surveillance he concludes that whatever it is they’re stashing inside, it’s purely a deposit only deal – nothing ever leaves. He has Water’s pull the floor plans and it turns out a super secure, 8 inch thick reinforced steel “freezer room” was recently installed there. Smells like a high end gangster vault to me, and Stone & Waters are picking up the scent too.
It’s here things turn. This investigation is totally off the books. No one else knows about this shit. Nor does anyone else know that one day a week the grocery store is left totally empty. Why not take it down?
I’d read the blurb for the film, so knew what to expect but it still felt like a jarring turning point. Stone suddenly wants to do this for financial gain, not to gain him kudos in the department. This isn’t End of Watch, where too dumb beat cops want to quickly progress by rocking the boat. Okay, I understand that he’s not happy in his position. Yeah, he’s gets no respect from his peers or even his own damn Dad. No one is listening to his great ideas or anything. No one gives a shit. But I don’t for one moment see him ready to start committing some major felonies or kill people (which he starts doing).
And it’s Stone doing the convincing! He’s supposed to be the straight guy, with Wood playing the waster. It just doesn’t ring true for the character. Maybe if there had been some jeopardy, or financial reason for him to risk it all, I’d get it. Instead he’s just like “hey, let’s try this”.
But how are they gonna do it? Thankfully, they have access to all sort of cool information in the evidence lockup, like paperwork on known arms dealers and so forth. And they find a friendly German drill manufacturer to create something that will pop the vault. I really enjoyed this scene, with the German’s correctly assuming that Stone is up to no good. “Probably some bank robber – cool”. Cage’s German pronunciation is also on point. Wunderbar.
The only snag is that the drill is gonna cost $20k. Stone refinances his house to pay for his end. Waters, being your normal run-of-the-mill pothead doesn’t have that kind of money stashed under his bed. So he does some shady shit to bring it in – working with a bent cop shaking down some local drug dealer for double their normal rent money. It’s here Waters starts experiencing the reservations which will ultimately unravel their little duo.
This movie is a descent into deep criminality for two would-be normal Joes. However, as neither character starts squeaky clean it doesn’t provide a fun ride. The bad stuff almost comes too natural to Stone. Now if Cage had shown some form of remorse after the first kill, or a greater descent into insanity, I think it would have been really interesting. Instead, he just sort of remains the same character. Maybe if the deaths had been accidental, I think they would have heightened the comedy element of the movie.
And there is humour. Jesus Christ, this is Nicolas Cage we’re talking about. My fave joke is just after they set up the drill in the apartment above the vault and Stone asks Waters, “okay, so you know the drill?”. Genius.
As they drill down, stuff goes wrong that they have to sort out, but it never really becomes a comedy of errors or anything of the sort. Nor is it hugely tense, because neither character has much on the line. Well, their careers etc, but it’s not like Stone is doing this for Daddies surgery money, or Waters is trying to win back the ex wife. They’re just sort of doing it because they hate their job. Now I can get behind that to an extent, but neither of them are professionals, and they should be doing stupid shit to worm their way out of crazy positions. It shouldn’t go smooth.
This is writer/director/brothers Alex and Benjamin Brewers first ride on the merry-go-round, so I’m not gonna shit on the Trust too much (unlike some). I just think watching something like Four Lions, Lock Stock & Two Smoking Barrels or even Horrible Bosses would have helped point them in the right sort of direction. Four Lions especially nails that idea about bungling would-be-terrorists and the various shenanigans they get up to.
But like a slippery gypsy, it’s really difficult to get a grip on The Trust’s tone. It’s certainly dark, but not the you-can-taste-the-cement-in-my-mouth high intensity grit of a Michael Mann movie. I like the setup; they’re cops who have badges and guns but are treated more like laughable librarians or custodians for shit brought in by ‘real cops’. There is an opportunity for an interesting story here – just think of all the knowledge and shit these guys have access to. But it’s never really exploited.
There’s also the old problem with finally revealing what’s in the vault too. We’re acting on the premise that no one knows what they’re gonna find. And while I won’t spoil it, what they do find is disappointing. But it’s always gonna be! Unless it was an alien or some other utterly random item, when it’s built up so much it’s always going to be somewhat…non-Earth shattering. For stuff like this you gotta make moves like in Ronin or Pulp Fiction. Never show us what’s in the case. That way we’ll be thinking about it and talking about it, and writing online articles theorizing on that shit.
Wood’s character at one point says “you knew about this” in reference to what they find in the vault. And it’s clear that Stone does, despite his phoney protestations. The idea that this was a giant masterplan is intriguing, and sadly not explored. Some awesome flashback scenes of how Stone positioned Waters into agreeing would have been great, sort of like an Oceans Eleven after-the-heist setup type thing. I often mention Training Day in this blog, mainly because it’s a fucking dynamite movie, but also because it does so much right. Denzel royally plays Hawke in that movie, and we only realize it when Hawke realizes it. It’s a powerful moment. As Denzel says, “this shits chess son, it ain’t checkers”. I still don’t know if that’s what The Trust was going for.
There are some good moments here though. Nicolas Cage is great. Just watching him put on aftershave, or mingle with his hotel employee co-workers is a real joy. I like the use of color, especially in the final scenes. And that final sequence, on the road…very good. There’s an interesting pay-off/callback that you sort of see coming but also sort of don’t. Nicely played guys.
Don’t get me wrong, the movie is shot well, cast well, and I liked the music. I just think the story could have used some tightening. There are some funny moments, but they’re not delightfully funny. Equally, there is a bit of tension, but not nail biting tension. Like a car driven by some blind old dude, The Trust veers haphazardly into various genres and styles at different points, without ever retaining a solid sense of what sort of film it is or what kind of story it’s telling.
That being said, I think it’s worthy of your time if you’re a Nic Cage or Elijah Wood fan. It’s not the best of movies, but you will have seen way worse. Seriously, if you’ve ever had the dire misfortune of seeing anything with Jai Courtney, Like I, Frankenstein…those atrocities make The Trust look like Shaft or Citizen Kane or something. Plus, it’s really worth it for the “you know the drill joke”. Trust me. Get it watched.