Sword of Trust is quite possibly the most low-key comedy you'll see this year. That's part of its charm. There are essentially only four locations in the entire movie. And rather than trying to make you laugh with big, broad set-ups, the film gives you the time to know its quirky characters so you can develop affection for them. Doing that prevents a third-act excursion into slightly kooky territory from going completely off the rails.
Marc Maron stars as Mel, a pawn shop owner in Birmingham, Alabama. His days are spent buying or selling items and getting annoyed by his slacker employee, Nathaniel (Jon Bass). One afternoon, two women enter his store. Cynthia (Jillian Bell) has just inherited a Confederate sword from her late grandfather. She and her partner Mary (Michaela Watkins) want to sell it. They have paperwork suggesting that its existence may prove that the South, in fact, won the Civil War.
Here's where the sly humor comes in. Neither Cynthia nor Mary really believes that claim. Mel doesn't either. But Nathaniel discovers that there is a fringe group online that does believe the South has been unfairly declared the loser of the Civil War, so they collectively decide to exploit the dumb story for the sole purpose of selling the relic to some rube for an absurd amount of money. With that set-up in place, Sword of Trust proceeds to show what happens when they find a buyer.
There's definitely resolution to this premise. However, the real joy in Sword of Trust is watching how the characters wind their way to it. These are four individuals with very distinct viewpoints. When one wavers, another stands strong. When one can't think of how to get out of a predicament, another comes up with an idea. Comedy is derived from seeing how such disparate people improbably end up becoming a cohesive unit. In any other circumstance, they might drive each other crazy. In this one, they gel in a strangely complimentary manner.
Each of the actors invests their character with a fully-formed personality, which makes the group dynamic increasingly fun to watch. There's a long stretch where the four are locked in the back of a truck, just conversing. You hang on every word because the performances are so true and so off-beat funny. At times, you feel like you're hanging out with a bunch of colorful oddballs, to a degree where you might not even care what happens with the sword because you're just enjoying the company.
Ultimately, that quality is helpful toward the end. How the situation plays out is amusing, although not particularly realistic. In some respects, it fizzles when it should pop. Nevertheless, the finale does relate to Sword of Trust's overall theme, which is that some folks believe incredibly dumb things. (Nathaniel has his own preposterous belief, making him sort of a mirror image of the guys the gang tries to sell the sword to.) Shelton and co-writer Mike O'Brien are interested in exploring that curious phenomenon where people believe what they want to be true, rather than what is demonstrably true.
Maron, Bell, Watkins, and Bass make a winning team, playing off one another with consummate skill. They create a comic rhythm that is a pleasure to get lost in. Toby Huss does hilarious supporting work as the middleman between Mel and the buyer. Sword of Trust is eighty-eight minutes of people talking, yet the things they say and the ways they say them provide plenty of laughs.
This is a delightful little film.
out of four
Sword of Trust is rated R for language. The running time is 1 hour and 28 minutes.