Truth is hard.
It relies so heavily on perception, memory, and contextual culture, that agreeing on one truth seems especially difficult for humans. At its core, the new film from Lynn Shelton, ‘Sword of Trust’ is an exploration of that. Throughout the film there are layers of truths, From the value of an old guitar, the claims of an addict, flat earth, and all the way to a sword that apparently proves that the South won the Civil War, truth is personal, disputed, and shifting. What is absolute truth to one character is ridiculous and false to another.
While the sword and the characters that it brings together is the crux of the narrative of the film, the characters and their interactions are what make this movie so compelling and interesting. Once the first act setup of the sword, and the players involved in the attempted auction of this conspiracy artifact, plays out, the films slows in pace and becomes more conversational. It becomes characters navigating the present truth and their own past truths in a compelling and immersive way.
The performances of the cast, as well as the apparent mix of written and ad-libbed dialogue, flows so convincingly and relatability that an audience member would be forgiven for forgetting the narration plot completely and just relishing in the presence of this ensemble. Informative without being heavy-handed, touching without overt, fictionalized emotion, and real enough that the fictionalized stakes surrounding it are secondary.
In this “fake news” era of culture, a culture which retreats to several fractured versions of “truth”, a culture that looks to reinforce personal beliefs and perceptions instead of exploring universal and shared truths, this film moves beyond observant and dips into the realm of prescience. As the characters reveal, and the story supports, this reinforcement of belief and the the cognitive dissonance that results leads nowhere but to sadness and loneliness.
Oh, did I mention this a comedy? Despite the words above, this film is hilarious. The same formula that so effectively portrays the slipperiness of truth and perception also equals a deadpan, quick-fire, Coen-esque, style of dialogue and performance. The absurdity of the quest that holds the narrative together and the subtle delivery of jokes during the films more calm moments lead to a succinct and nearly perfect execution of dry humor. One scene in the back of a truck in particular exemplifies the razor thin line of tragedy and comedy perfectly.
So, while the narrative is loose, and the story slow, the pacing, performances, and underlying themes of Sword of Trust make this a special film that should be discussed and appreciated.