In the freewheeling indie Sword of Trust, director Lynn Shelton has given her four talented principals the go-ahead to improvise when needed. And with their background in comedy, the audience can clearly see these actors are game. Shelton (who wrote this movie with former SNL staff writer Mike O’Brien) is no stranger to a loose narrative, as seen in 2009’s hilarious buddy comedy Hump Day. But, this time, her reigns are a little too loose.
During Sword of Trust, the audience feels in good company with the film’s leading cast (Marc Maron, Michaela Watkins, Jon Bass, Jillian Bell). These are performers who know how to react off of each other really well, which helps pace the momentum of their chemistry. Even if the story meanders or their dialogue isn’t that funny, they’re still able to hold our attention. The film is an especially strong vehicle for Maron, who is known for hosting his highly successful podcast and his appearances on Netflix’s Easy and GLOW. Not only does he make us laugh and hold the the forefront with a monologue that’s easily the film’s most emotional period, but he has also provided the bluegrass score that plays underneath sweltering scenes.
Lynn Shelton, however, benefits the least from Sword of Trust. The story that she’s cooked up with O’Brien is a potentially good, modern folktale; driven by characters who are all trying to undercut tall tales and conspiracy theories with their own greed. Unfortunately, this dull film rambles and stalls, and inevitably paints itself into a corner without much of a care – assuming it’s clever enough to disguise its shortcomings.
I wonder if Shelton was sweating under the pressure of having an insufficient story. Sword of Trust eventually resorts to “fill-in-the-blank” screenwriting and direction, which translates as the film desperately trying to wrap itself up in any way possible. Instead of feeling organic, this rather feels like an “all bets are off” approach to these humble characters who are in need of a filmmaker who is actually prepared to tell their story.
Sword of Trust is now playing at Toronto’s TIFF Bell Lightbox.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie