Sword Of Trust


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Sword Of Trust
"For all its awkwardness and unevenness, this is an endearing little film with well realised, three dimensional characters."

As our society goes through the usual panic associated with the adoption of a new means of mass communication, and once again convinces itself that it will never again be able to control the spread of deliberately misleading information, it's pertinent to consider the ways that false belief is cultivated in less amenable times and what that can tell us about its core devotees. Most US citizens will be aware that ever since the American Civil War there have been conspiracy theorists - some conscious propagandists, some unwitting transmitters - promulgating the idea that the Union started it and the Confederates only wanted to defend states' rights, not an economic model based on slavery. In her latest mumblecore comedy, Lynn Shelton takes this one step further and toys with the idea of a cult belief that the South actually won that war - with white supremacist adherents anxiously searching for proof.

It's tedious to ridicule a wider group by setting up straw men; so, are there any such believers? A quick internet search suggests that the answer is yes, though they seem disorganised and not very coherent; it seems unlikely that such a notion could survive much discussion due to the inevitable uncertainty about what winning a war would mean if nobody noticed it. The paranoia around this belief makes it easy to conjecture, however, that there are others out there believing in secret, which opens up a rich world of possibility for Shelton to play with.

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Unassuming Alabama couple Cynthia (Jillian Bell) and Mary (Michaela Watkins) stumble into this strange territory when the former receives an inheritance from her recently deceased grandfather: a sword which, according to the note he has left, is a key relic disproving the accepted version of history. Disappointed that it's not something more useful like, say, a house, they decide to sell it to the local pawn shop, but as they negotiate with its owner, Mel (an excellent Marc Maron), the savvy Mary realises that it's clearly worth more than the average sword and tells him he will have to act as sales agent rather than middleman if he wants a cut of the profits at all. What none of them has reckoned with is the aggression of the white supremacist thugs who soon appear at the store to try and claim it. Suddenly aware that they're out of their depth, the three of them - along with Mel's hapless assistant, Nathaniel (Jon Bass) - find themselves agreeing to take a ride with a potentially dangerous man, with no idea what will become of them.

For all its awkwardness and unevenness, this is an endearing little film with well realised, three dimensional characters and some sharp observations to make about the intersections of far right ideology and capitalism. Its quirky humour makes the very real possibility of violence considerably more unnerving than usual. that balance of comedy and tension doesn't always gel, and there are some notable missteps, but Shelton's fondness for meandering narratives takes her to unexpected places and is to be commended if only because of the possibilities it opens up. Watching Sword Of Trust, one cannot trust the story to follow formula. It's not as cutting as it might be but this film will keep you on edge.

Reviewed on: 30 Dec 2019
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Sword Of Trust packshot
Complications ensue when a couple try to sell an inherited sword believed by some to be proof that the Confederacy won the American Civil War.

Director: Lynn Shelton

Writer: Lynn Shelton, Michael Patrick O'Brien

Starring: Marc Maron, Jon Bass, Michaela Watkins, Jillian Bell, Toby Huss, Dan Bakkedahl

Year: 2019

Runtime: 88 minutes

Country: US


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