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Look at the box art, and there's no indication The Trust has anything to offer (more on that art in another section). Thanks to issues with his personal finances, the last ten or so years have been wildly uneven for Cage, with him sleepwalking through a blockbuster like The Sorcerer's Apprentice, only to revive his 1980s glory days in Werner Herzog's Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. Yet, The Trust feels like vintage Cage, one of the performances that will be referred to somewhere down the road as a minor, overlooked gem. In fact, The Trust itself is a fascinating little movie, one that blends together familiar ideas into a tonally offbeat and a surprisingly unpredictable little thriller.
Cage plays Jim Stone, a veteran cop with a perpetually chipper attitude even when assigned mundane tasks and an impressive amount of patience. Elijah Wood is his co-worker, David Waters, a moody, nervous, perpetually exasperated younger officer who supervises the evidence locker. When Jim notices something interesting on one of the case files he comes across, he convinces David to help him tail a few guys and investigate a couple of buildings. They discover a secret safehouse, some sort of money stash for a local crime organization, one which two enterprising men could easily rob. Jim, who seems to sense a lack of respect from his colleagues and a dwindling amount of patience for the monotony of the gig (as well as an old man, played by Jerry Lewis -- yes, the Jerry Lewis -- to help out), is all in, and with a little goading, David reluctantly hops on board as well. There's only one catch: the best way to break into the vault is to drill in from above, and the apartment they'd need to do it is occupied by a mystery tenant.
So much of what makes The Trust compelling, as well as what makes Cage fun to watch, is in the little details. He goads David into trying a disgusting-sounding bar snack. He plays horrible pranks on his partner. There's a slightly exaggerated verve or energy to his performance that is both impossible to really describe but easy to explain: it's the spark of unpredictability he's built his entire career on. For the most part, Jim is not a wild man, an amped-up psycho that Cage often memorably inhabits. He's just a slightly idiosyncratic man, one who doesn't seem to quite understand the gravity of some of the situations he's set up -- or maybe he does, and he's just playing coy. Not only is it fun to watch, it also provides the perfect set-up for the doubt that gnaws at David -- can Jim be trusted? After all, he is a cop committing a huge crime, and it wouldn't be too hard for Jim to bump him off. In another movie, with another actor, this lingering question might seem tedious, but Cage's resilient affability makes trying to figure it out an entertaining puzzle.
Stylistically, the Brewers have plenty of tricks up their sleeve. They have a good comic instinct for the early scenes, when Jim and David are planning the gig, complete with some interesting low-budget visuals (at one point, David makes a life-size line-art blueprint of the apartment out of masking tape so that he and Jim can walk around in it). There is a delightful montage in which Jim goes undercover to get some information, fully inhabiting the role of a generic hotel staff member. As the film continues, they gradually shift from Jim's upbeat view of the world and into David's more anxious vision. With such nicely-defined characters, later suspense scenes (which are executed with no major contrivances or frustrating acts of character idiocy) are impressively tense, and the Brewers shift the tone without losing sight of the characters we've come to enjoy. Although some might not appreciate the difference between the first half and the second, by the time the Brewers get there, they've built up enough benefit of the doubt to trust (no pun intended) that they have some idea where they're going.
The biggest hurdle The Trust will have to overcome in finding an audience is its horrible Blu-ray and DVD cover art, which was presumably generated by some stock "direct-to-video thriller" automated cover art program. It depicts Cage mid-stride and Wood, gun pointed, in front of a vault door that looks nothing like the one in the movie, with the title emblazoned above them in red block letters. Why is Cage walking away from the vault? Why is he calm if Wood is on edge? Foreign versions of the artwork depicted Cage and Wood in similar positions outside the apartment, with Wood simply walking behind Cage (even if most of these pretended that Wood was only a few centimeters shorter than Cage), and were more evocative and accurate to the film, but probably less exciting. Anyway, it's bad art that doesn't represent the film. The one-disc release comes in a matte slipcover with essentially identical art, with a one-disc eco-friendly Viva Elite inside, and there is a slip with an UltraViolet HD Digital Copy code on it inside.
The Video and Audio
On Blu-ray, The Trust has a pleasing appearance that has a clarity and vivacity that belies its digital roots (Arri Alexa and the RED can be seen in the behind-the-scenes featurettes), but the edges have been softened and the cinematography is very striking, giving the movie a more film-like appearance, which this 2.39:1 1080p AVC-encoded transfer has no problem capturing nicely. Although the digital texture designed to simulate film grain occasionally gives itself away, especially in darker scenes with obvious lights in them (such as the inside of a Vegas bar), there aren't any serious issues to report with regard to compression or overall quality. A vivid DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track is also included, which has a clarity that comes in handy during tense moments where dead air is as important to the suspense as the effects. Most of the track is devoted to atmospherics and music, as this is a dialogue-heavy thriller without as much emphasis on action. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing and English and Spanish subtitles are also included.
The most substantial extra on the disc is an audio commentary by writer/directors Alex and Benjamin Brewer. This is a pretty casual, laid-back affair, with the two filmmakers delivering spur-of-the-moment comments on the scenes as they come up, without any overarching discussion of anything in particular. They're in good spirits, giggling constantly, and the track contains some fascinating minutia about things going on during and around the production, but the track would likely benefit from some sort of overall focus for the directors to return to during dead spots, such as the history of the script or how they attracted the movie's eclectic cast.
Two brief video featurettes are also included. "The Dynamics of a Duo" (5:38) sits down with the Brewers, producer Braxton Pope, Elijah Wood, and Nicolas Cage to talk a little about the two lead characters, and the dynamic they share. Starts out feeling pretty canned, but Cage is interesting, chatting about his interest in what younger directors perceive him as based on his career, and about the direction he wanted his character to go. This is followed by "The Visuals of Vegas" (5:27), which has the same participants talking about capturing the famous city in a different light. It's actually fascinating in terms of detailing what the movie avoids showing, and how the film subtly reinforces a more timeless quality in terms of its locations. One note, though: not that I understand why anyone would watch the extras before the film, but the second featurette contains a major spoiler.
Trailers for I Am Wrath, Criminal, Heist (2015), American Heist, and Joe play before the main menu, and are re-viewable as a reel under the special features as "Also From Lionsgate." No trailer for The Trust is included.
The Trust isn't a masterpiece, but it is a solid low-budget thriller, one which functions effectively and efficiently, full of fun and interesting character moments, impressive tension, and a nice style, visually and otherwise. It's also a nice reminder that Cage, for all of his eccentricities, is one of our acting treasures, a man who, at his best, injects an unpredictable energy that movies like this desperately need. Recommended.
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