Nicolas Cage has appeared in unsatisfying VOD curios for so long that many people seem to have forgotten that he’s a great actor. The pleasure, then, of watching Alex and Benjamin Brewer’s The Trust can largely be ascribed to the fact that it’s one of the rare under-the-radar genre films that actually allows, or perhaps empowers, Cage to unceremoniously shine.
Cage isn’t playing a coherently worked-out character in this film. His Stone, a Las Vegas cop on the evidence collection beat, tends to change with whatever tonal wind is dictated by the screenplay at any given time. Sometimes, Stone is a Cagey dork, given to awkward forms of ingratiation that hinge on the actor’s ability to contort word deliveries into engagingly arbitrary bebop routines. At other times, Stone is a Cagey badass, prone to the same ingratiation as the dork, only as a signal of a deep and intensely competent malevolence. But this waffling doesn’t matter in The Trust, as Cage holds the screen with his distinct timing and expressive force of being.
The Brewers have fashioned a dryly comic thriller that fuses a siege scenario with a heist-film formula, deriving suspense from the shrewd use of prolonged silence, which serves as a reprieve from the sort of over-scored thrillers Cage has regularly starred in over the last several years. Long sequences linger over Stone and his slightly more moral partner in crime, Waters (Elijah Wood), as they drill into the floor of an apartment situated above a convenience store that’s housing the safe of a drug cartel. The shrill metallic sounds of the drilling come to connote a kind of violation, affirming our knowledge that these two are involved in a scheme that’s far above their paygrade.
The Brewers don’t fall into that hack crime-movie trap of over-emphasizing machismo; in fact, that’s what they parody. Stone is an unexpectedly formidable thief and safe cracker, but he’s still made of flimsier stock than he knows, as he has an inflated opinion of himself that spells doom. The filmmakers wring comedy out of their acceptance, as a given, that every cop in this universe is crooked. Waters has to buy into Stone’s scheme, so he and a detective (Ethan Suplee) shake down a criminal enterprise that operates behind the front of a bakery. The matter-of-factness of this presentation of abuse of power gives the film an absurdist charge that’s resonant considering the real, unending controversies stemming over police-sanctioned atrocity.
Much of The Trust’s charm springs from Cage and Wood’s rapport with one another. They offer a striking contrast physically (Cage is the big bear to Wood’s diminutive spark plug) and in terms of temperament (the former’s slower, dangerous rhythms play off the latter’s faster, nervous “everyman” energies). And both actors exhibit an infectious impression of joy to be working together. As veterans of the VOD landscape, Cage and Wood seem to recognize that they’ve landed a trim, suggestively diverting time-killer.