Friday, May 13, 2016

In Theaters/On VOD: THE TRUST (2016)

(US/UK - 2016)

Directed by Alex Brewer & Benjamin Brewer. Written by Adam Hirsch and Benjamin Brewer. Cast: Nicolas Cage, Elijah Wood, Sky Ferreira, Jerry Lewis, Ethan Suplee, Steven Willliams, Eric Heister, Alexandria Lee, Keston John. (R, 92 mins)

At this point in his career, Nicolas Cage has almost become synonymous with "VOD," spending the last several years cranking out a series of largely interchangeable and mostly forgettable action movies that played in as few theaters as contractually mandated. For every worthwhile film he makes, like JOE or THE FROZEN GROUND, there's three RAGE's or THE RUNNER's. And when he does manage to headline a nationwide release, it's LEFT BEHIND, easily the most embarrassing film of his career. Cage coasts through so many garbage movies that it's a major event for his fans when he makes a good one, and the quirky heist thriller THE TRUST, while no classic, qualifies as high-end Cage these days and definitely belongs in the JOE and FROZEN GROUND club. Directed by Alex & Benjamin Brewer and written by Benjamin Brewer and Adam Hirsch, THE TRUST provides the Oscar-winning actor with one of his trademark eccentric characters, essayed by a Cage who's sort-of mellowed with age but still shows flashes of bug-eyed hysteria when he's pushed to the edge. Cage is Jim Stone, a bored cop and supervisor of the Las Vegas P.D.'s evidence department. Stone happens upon a bail receipt for $200,000 cash and is curious about the potential criminal activities and "deep pockets" of someone who has $200,000 in cash so easily available. Buddying up with one of his staffers, disgruntled David Waters (Elijah Wood), Stone uses department funds to set up a phony undercover/surveillance operation, even posing as a clumsy waiter to tail the guy who got bailed out to see if it leads to the source of the big money. Eventually, they uncover the existence of a secret vault hidden in a freezer inside a carryout, where numerous drops are made but no money ever leaves. Convinced it's a cash drop for a Vegas drug operation, Stone aggressively cajoles Waters into robbing the vault, even convincing him to drop $10K of his own money on an industrial-sized drill so they can work into the vault from the supposedly vacant apartment above the carryout. And of course, like any heist movie, complications ensue.

It's great to see Cage in a role that effectively utilizes his talents and inspires him to turn in one of his periodic "He's still got it!" performances. JOE proved that Cage is capable of great things if his heart's in it, and while THE TRUST is by and large a relatively minor, "small" movie, it's the kind of low-key, indie departure that he should've made more of back in his '90s and early '00s heyday and his career probably wouldn't be in the rut it is today. In his best role since JOE, Cage is wired, jumpy, and unpredictable in ways unseen since Werner Herzog's BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS back in 2009, with some laugh-out-loud funny line deliveries (the odd way Stone says "cocaine," or when meeting a dangerous criminal named Bobo, Stone can't stop marveling at how "fun" the name Bobo sounds, carrying on until Bobo inevitably barks "Shut the fuck up!") and having fun with character quirks like Stone's taste for lemons slathered in tabasco. Though he makes the character his own, there are a few instances--the breath spray bit, for instance-- where Cage seems to be channeling vintage Chevy Chase (and then Stone struck me as the kind of offbeat role that could've revitalized Chase's career back when it mattered). Starting with the unholy lemons & tabasco mix, Stone can pretty much talk the unambitious Waters into anything, and the humor, which almost feels like the Coen Bros. adapting an Elmore Leonard novel, gradually disappears as the stakes get more serious.

THE TRUST is a lot more fun in its early stages when it focuses on the planning of the heist and the amusing camaraderie between Stone and Waters, and Wood proves to be a solid, slow-burning foil for his boss' impulsive and often irresponsible antics ("You're mortgaging your house to pay for a heist?!"). But when the heist starts to involve murder and an unintended hostage (Sky Ferreira), and Waters gets an increasingly paranoid feeling that Stone is setting him up, THE TRUST gets dead serious and very downbeat, and it doesn't really gel with the more easy-going, working-stiff OCEAN'S ELEVEN riff with nine less guys pulling off a job on the seedier side of town. It's almost too methodical in its depiction of the heist, actually slowing down the momentum at times. But despite the jarring shift in tone and the uneven nature of the story, THE TRUST is still an engaging comedy-turned-thriller. Cage (wearing one of his more plausible Christopher Lee hairpieces) and Wood could make a good comedy team, and the film even offers a rare-these-days screen appearance for the legendary Jerry Lewis in a small role as Stone's retired cop dad. It's a role anyone could've played and 90-year-old Lewis doesn't have much to do in two brief scenes. While it's not a KING OF COMEDY-style stretch and he likely wasn't on the set for more than a day, it's nice to see him in a movie again, and in a generally atypical dramatic role.

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