That the Las Vegas Police Department is ridden with officers on the take in
one form or another is well established early on in this dark comedy that
features an outlandish interpretation by Nicolas Cage of a corrupt detective
who mentors and depraves a junior officer with off-the-charts avarice. But
that's not the worst about this guy.
When Detective Jim Stone (a cagy Cage) comes across documents pertaining to a
bailed-out heroin dealer, what catches his eye (and the moment that launches
the escapade) is the hoodlum's bail amount, paid in cash
to the tune of $200,000! Who is paying that kind of swag for a criminal like
this? Stone's avarice lights him up with a fever.
He can't launch his plan alone so he depends on his partner, recently
divorced junior grade officer David Waters (a sharply timid Elijah Woods) who
is ready meat for his superior's slightly loose lug nuts, metaphorically
Waters is a man of the follower sort so, true to his miniony nature, he
reluctantly agrees to participate in his boss's scheme and follows his
orders to surveil the suspect. Bingo! The suspect leads him to a modest
grocery being used to bank the benefits of a casino operation. Surveillance
turns into illegal entry and the discovery of a huge, high-end vault which
has the sarge breathing hard over the fortune that awaits his clammy gloves.
Problem is, Waters has no more desire for a big score than for mob
retaliation. The day has come when he says no to his boss. But Stone knows
the buttons to push to turn Waters' resolve into mush. So, after buckling
under Stone's pressure, Waters finds his end of the plan is to come up with
ten grand to pay a German metal engineer for a high-end drilling machine.
Waters is going to be sorry he ever acquired a badge.
The nighttime operation owes a debt to many a caper comedy, Italy's "Big Deal
on Madonna Street," being my favorite. Let it be noted, however, that no
matter what heist movie one may compare this one to, "The Trust"
(alternatively, "The Vault") is, in many ways, an original.
Originality is largely the effect of the in-the-moment zaniness of Cage's
totally unexpected behavioral choices. I have the impression that the
off-beat character was devised by him and co-directors Alex and Benjamin Brewer
("Beneath Contempt") in the rehearsals because it just seems to be more than
a writer is likely to script. Is it meant to characterize a Las Vegas
cop or to take advantage of Cage's understanding of the role and having fun
with it? Of course it's the latter.
But, there are weaknesses, such as loose ends in a sequence, or jump cuts
that cause momentary confusion. I wondered if some of the footage was hard to
edit owing to a rushed shooting schedule, two directors and two writers, all
trying to "handle" a Nicolas Cage. But, for me, the acting risks that Cage
takes are fascinating enough to outweigh a few flaws and an ending that the
creative staff weren't exactly clear on.
It's a more relaxed character in many a Cage film (that I've seen) and a
style that will keep the viewer who gets on the film's wavelength (which,
alas, may be few) glued to their seats in stunned enjoyment. A few Cage fans
might want to watch the movie a second time just to make sure they didn't
Then there's the foil: Wood, and he's got a good handle on his man and his
function, having played something like it numerous times. Here, he exhibits
control and a confidence to match as the perfect stooge for Cage's clown act,
turning in the strongest character portrayal I've seen from him as an
While this isn't billed as a character study, these two guys are enough to
make any psychiatist's day.
I take it as a bit of light larceny and a trippy ride-along with a strong
element of magical realism that causes a fresh and near-hilarious take on
policing to run out of gas with an uncertain wrap-up. Comedian Jerry Lewis
plays a small part as Stone's dad. Production values are high for a low
budgeter with Sean Porter ("Green Room") leading the crafts with his good,
~~ Jules Brenner