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Cinema Signal: Nicolas Cage takes this heist thriller to a new level of originality. The light is Green for the right folks. MOBILE version |
. "The Trust"

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 speaking.

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 miss something.

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 adult.

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, wide-spectrum cinematograpy.

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                                                                              ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Elijah Wood and Nicolas Cage, two cops on a money run.

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