If one wants to invest into a wry independent comedy worth the Southern satire it spouts then co-writer/director Lynn Shelton has the charming farce to pull off such an order. The South shall rise again…well…momentarily anyway in Shelton’s Civil War truther tale Sword of Trust. So do you know what happens when the Confederates–under the assumption that they were actually victorious against the Union–have wishful thinking on their side courtesy of believed historical accuracy (in this case inaccuracy)? Plus, what does one anticipate when a quartet of opportunists milk this southern fried falsehood over an antique sword for deceptive profit at the expense of these misguided believers? Again, this off-kilter premise invites the welcomed shifty-minded lunacy that is Sword of Trust.
Shelton and fellow scriber in Saturday Night Live’s Michael Patrick O’Brien concocts a spry, absurdist tease below the Mason-Dixon Line that fabulously registers its outlandish lampooning of southern pride and promise in a deadpan ditty that stings with sharpened wit. Based in Birmingham, Alabama, this low-budget farce has high-caliber hilarity courtesy of comedian Marc Maron leading the charge of low-key madness that drags more graceful than a southern drawl. In the middle of released broad mainstream comedies that are one-note annoyances it is refreshing that something as quaint yet droll such as Sword of Trust can deliver genuine chuckles from a smart approach.
Birmingham pawn shop owner Mel (Maron) conducts his business as usual when buying and selling items that come across his path. Mel has to tolerate his annoying employee Nathaniel (Jon Bass) while keeping track of his dealings with all sorts of personalities. Soon, two women will enter the lives of Mel and Nathaniel therefore making their encounter a memorable one. Cynthia (Jillian Bell) and her partner Mary (Michaela Watkins) arrive with a Confederate sword that they are looking to sell. Specifically, the relic belonged to Cynthia’s late grandfather that she had inherited. However, the sword comes with a claim that it may provide proof that the South won the Civil War after all.
Naturally, they all collectively discount the suggestion that the northern Yankees were the actual losers and find this tidbit far-fetched when connecting this misnomer to the storied sword. Nathaniel is the one that reveals there is a massive faction online that believes the Southerners conquered the Northerners and that perhaps there was some kind of conspiracy to discredit the Confederate triumph left ignored. Sensing a golden chance to exploit the suckers for their ill-advised devoted beliefs in the supremacy of the Confederate’s dismissive Civil War dominance Mel and cohorts decide to sell the sword to the highest bidder willing to buy into their ignorance about their misinformed stance of American history. After all, there is money to be made on the sword that signifies these clueless on-liners’ mindset.
What makes Sword of Trust so devilishly subversive in its blunt humor is the whole screwy scenario of four swindlers looking to make mockery mincemeat out of committed saps holding on to baseless intuition about a major life-and-death historical hiccup that defined a divided nation of yesteryear. It appears that no one is redeeming in this elaborate scam of trutherism as the blinders are set for the subtle outrageousness that persists. Maron’s unctuous Mel and his imbecilic sidekick Nathaniel (who shares the theory that the earth is still flat) are as shady as a weeping willow tree. Married lesbians Cynthia and Mary are not what one would call Girl Scouts in this phony operation either. When the shameless pawn shop pair tried swindling the women by negotiating an unflattering $400.00 offer for the antique sword it was a matter of time before this group would join forces and control their nefarious narrative in smirking fashion.
Well-written and perceptively conceived, Sword of Truth is a shrewd comedy that’s joyfully weird, grounded in cynicism, and boasts some of the most colorful and cockeyed characters ever assembled for a quaint production. Shelton definitely captures all the southern allure of the regional wackiness and sense of rural hilarity that exists in ‘Bama. Also, Shelton enlisting lead Maron–a collaborator that she had previously worked with on the comic’s stand-up specials–was a stroke of good fortune as the funnyman aptly orchestrates the sordid sword-selling antics to loony lengths. The Delta Blues vibe, southern Civil War-related obstinance, snarky business ethics…all are enveloped in the unassuming brilliance of this Mint julep of slick-inducing wittiness.
Film Rating: **** 1/2 stars (out of 5 stars)
Director: Lynn Shelton
Starring: Marc Maron, Jillian Bell, Michaela Watkins, John Bass, Toby Huss, Dan Bakkedahl
Run Time: 89 mins.
Studio: IFC Films