Sword of Trust, 2019.
Written and Directed by Lynn Shelton.
Starring Marc Maron, Jon Bass, Michaela Watkins, Jillian Bell, Toby Huss, Dan Bakkedahl, Timothy Paul, Whitmer Thomas, Al Elliott, and Lynn Shelton.
Cynthia and Mary show up to collect Cynthia’s inheritance from her deceased grandfather, but the only item she receives is an antique sword that was believed by her grandfather to be proof that the South won the Civil War.
Pawnshop shows are some of the best trashy reality TV around. Sure, you have to put up with watching a dysfunctional family squabbling with one another about nonsense, but there’s also education to be found regarding various diverse artifacts. The center of writer and director Lynn Shelton’s latest feature, Sword of Trust, involves a small pawnshop setting, but also the titular sword that comes with a handwritten story (one that was penned at the height of someone’s Alzheimer’s, causing many of the details to either be confounding or not match up) and a drawing expressing that the Confederacy won the Civil War, which comes to be known as a “prover item” to both conspiracy theorists and certain nutty individuals that live their life based on a brand of toxic Southern pride.
Admittedly, I’m simultaneously not interested and terrified to check out if there are actually people that believe the South won the Civil War, but considering the hoops some dense moviegoers went through in an effort to prove that Disney pulled off all kinds of schemes to boost profits, I’m ready to accept that people will believe anything if a charismatic person starts spouting off ludicrous theories. Maybe they want attention, maybe they really are that stupid, but one thing that gets overlooked is that the very nature of conspiracy theories can sometimes be fun to entertain, as evident by one of the film’s protagonists being enamored by online videos theorizing that the earth is flat. Normally, I want to label such a person incredibly stupid, but here it was a reminder of how fun it can be to listen to the asinine and take in opposing viewpoints, so long as they are harmless and intriguing.
Jillian Bell and Michaela Watkins are loving couple Cynthia and Mary, the former of which is receiving the inheritance of her late, openly racist grandfather. The film does not shy away from wrestling with the fact that we can’t choose our family and that in some situations, things can be overlooked (something I never expected basically any movie to do considering how many families Trump’s presidency has divided) if said individual was always a caring person to those closest. Nevertheless, all that’s left behind as mentioned above; a sword, a letter, and a rambling letter, all meant to prove that the Union surrendered. Strapped for cash, they decide to inquire its value by heading to the local pawn shop run by Mel (comedian Marc Maron in great form here as equal parts cynical, shady salesman, and sardonic) and his partner Nathaniel (Jon Bass, perfecting the lovable loser character type that happens to be fascinated by all things conspiracy theories).
It turns out to be worth a lot, with some rather crude and hostile fellow Southerners on the way to validate the story and make a purchase. And while the situational humor is consistently funny, the laughs almost hurt when you begin to remember that there are probably real people that believe in the same things and act this cartoonishly violent. At one point the buyers request that everyone involved in the transaction ride in the back of the truck to an undisclosed location where the deal can be finalized by their leader, which remains outrageous but is also where Lynn Shelton successfully peels back layers of what her film is really saying.
For an 88 minute movie, there is also way too much superfluous fluff getting there (the segment in the back of the truck must run for over 10 minutes dragging on far longer than necessary, and it’s not the only scene that suffers from the same extended improvisational dialogue). It works, but it’s also still somehow too much. There are also one or two subplots that don’t really go anywhere, or in one case, a revelation about a few side characters that just feels pointless; a surprise to have a surprise. Fortunately, the comedic talents of all involved are enough to keep the thing moving along at a pace where things never get too frustrating, and as mentioned, the themes themselves are very thoughtful and poignant considering the current state of America.
Sword of Trust never really follows through on telling a compelling story (there are times where it feels like Lynn Shelton has no idea how to organically tie specific plot points together), but the character interactions are hilarious, especially as they gradually get in over their heads in what begins to feel like a spin on BlacKkKlansman. If nothing else, it will amusingly turn you on to another group of truly crazy people.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com