The Trust (2016)

First published by RealCrime Magazine

Brothers Ben and Alex Bewer’s collaborative feature debut The Trust both opens and closes with the Knights’ 1968 instrumental track Tipping Strings – its brassy, bombastic funk setting an ironising tone for the moral descent that the rest of the film will track with escalating intensity.

Initially and ultimately, The Trust is a dark (albeit occasionally lit in Vegas neon) comedy of all-too-human errors, in which two police officers pay the price for crossing a criminal line – but once the film has deftly established its eccentric cast (including a cameo from the great American comedian Jerry Lewis) and got past its “pre-heist joke” to the serious procedural business of undercover vault robbery, the tone shifts, wry laughs stop and the tensions, rooted in character as much as in situation, mount.

When we first meet David Waters (Elijah Wood), distractedly screwing a prostitute before coughing his way through a morning reefer and heading off – late – to a crime scene, we can already see that this disgruntled divorcé is drifting towards the wrong side of law and order. Less morally ambiguous, at least at first, is David’s boss in Evidence Management, Lieutenant Jim Stone, who seems a lone procedural stickler surrounded by other cops more interested in perquisites and pocket-lining – and it is only the fact that he is played by Nicolas Cage which might leave viewers wondering when Jim’ll drop his anally-retentive schtick and let out the crazy.

The wait is not long. For once Jim has spotted that $200,000 cash has been paid to bail a minor drug dealer, he smells opportunity, and begins plotting to locate and steal criminal money just as methodically as he had previously drawn up plans for improvement in police work. David is recruited early to come along for this ride on the wild side. From here on in, as rules are broken, codes are transgressed, and very bad things are done, we begin, with David, to suspect that the increasingly unhinged Jim may have been merely playing the innocent all along.

“I don’t know what this is,” declares David, realising that he is in way over his head, “I don’t know where we are right now.”

“We’re in the heart of the American dream!” is Jim’s reply – and he’s right. For buried away in this taut caper is a critique of the venality, corruption and greed that drives economic mobility in a country where police earn less than a casino busboy can get in tips, and where fortune smiles broadest on the ruthlessly larcenous. David and Jim’s resulting heist, and its collateral damage, play out like Andrew Dominick’s Killing Them Softly (2012) infused with Coen-esque clusterfuckery.

© Anton Bitel