'Sword of Trust' film review: Marc Maron shines in Civil War "truther" conspiracy comedy
Comedian Marc Maron shines in writer-director Lynn Shelton's latest comedic drama, "Sword Of Trust" (opening in additional select cities July 26). A standout lead performance and fun character dynamics make up for a meandering narrative that ultimately sputters at the end.
In short: Pawn shop owner Mel (Maron) tries to sell an inherited antique sword - an artifact that some believe proves the South won the Civil War. Also stars Michaela Watkins, Jillian Bell and Jon Bass.
Maron is perfectly cast as a testy pawn shop owner who always seems to have a caustic barb ready to fire. At times, the script sounds tailored to Maron's cantankerous and irritable delivery - blurring the lines between well-crafted dialogue and some lightning fast improv. While the screenplay gives him plenty of fun, irascible material to play with, Maron nails the film's dramatic moments - using these moments not to go with big or melodramatic, but opting for quiet, panged, nuanced performances.
For a movie that slowly bobs along, at least Watkins, Bell and Bass make "Sword" a much more engaging and entertaining film than it should be. The four main characters are united only in their goal of selling the sword - otherwise Mel and his slacker employee (Bass) are in over their head with revisionist history rednecks, while the sword's owner (Bell) and her partner (Watkins) just want in on the pricey deal. In the spaces where the story almost doesn't progress at all, "Sword" is blessed with a razor-sharp cast able to exchange barbs as they bicker their way to a deal.
The film hinges on the radioactive nature of the titular sword and the conspiracy fringe element willing to believe the Earth is flat or that the South truly won the war. The plot is driven by the willingness or desperation of Mel and his reluctant business partners to go down the rabbit hole of Civil War "truthers" to sell a centuries old sword for a small fortune. Sadly, "Sword" doesn't fully commit to its premise and unravels completely in the third act.
"Sword" firmly establishes that some crazies are willing to go to crazy lengths to get their hands on the sword - but the film never offers a solid reason for Mel or the sword's owners to risk so much for a relatively small stack of money. Mel, the guy working in his store and the sword's new owner's primary motivation is to just see the Civil War-obsessed zealots willing to pay thousands for a sword up close and personal. It's just an amusing freak show to them - which is especially weird after some fanatics show up and directly threaten Mel over the sword. The fact that the main characters are so nonchalant about the inherent risks and that they apparently care very little about the actual payoff drains dramatic stakes from "Sword." The characters themselves echo this near apathy to the plot - and when the protagonists are detached from the stakes, the audience is equally detached.
Ostensibly the film is about some folks trying to sell a controversial sword - but at its core, it tracks Mel's turbulent relationship with his estranged girlfriend Dierdre (also played by Shelton). This is the actual thematic arch of "Sword," and it really just amounts to three scenes in the film. Mel's attempt to offload a pawned item to some shady characters is a long, indirect means of tracking his rocky and baggage-laden relationship. Mel's character trajectory - with his doubts about Dierdre lingering in the back of his head - form an emotionally compelling story, however, this story is relegated to the film's background while a meandering, plot-driven story squanders a provocative premise.
Final verdict: Shelton's latest indie comedy is a showcase for Maron, however, initially intriguing plot becomes more of a liability than an asset for the film as the story drags on.
"Sword Of Trust" screened during the 2019 Seattle International Film Festival and opens in additional select cities July 26. This dramatic comedy has a runtime of 88 minutes and is rated R for language throughout.