At this point, it’s hard to know what to expect from a Nicolas Cage performance. Sometimes, we’ll get a nuanced bit of weirdness out of movies like Matchstick Men or Joe; character work that’s demarcated by a sense of soulful attachment and human vulnerability. Other times, we get shit like The Frozen Ground or Rage – obvious paycheck pictures where the man shows up, does his time, and gets the fuck out of Dodge pronto. Even more interesting are the instances of “mega acting” – Cage’s trademarked pomposity, injected with over the top tics and bonkers bombast.
The Wicker Man and Kick-Ass are the most obvious examples of this specific ostentation; wholly entertaining slices of WTF artistry that we cannot begin to fathom because we are mere mortals and not Nicolas Cage. Regardless, the days of his collaborations with artists like Spike Jonze, David Lynch, Brian De Palma and the Coen Bros. seem long behind the thespian, as he churns out DTV junk that almost make you forget he was once on the tip of every exciting auteur’s tongue when it came to casting.
The Trust is an odd entry into the Cage canon. On the surface, it seems like an RLJ Entertainment-ready slice of cash-in nothingness intended for Redboxes in front of gas stations across the country. But really The Trust is quite the notable slice of Las Vegas neo noir, as Cage plays an (obviously) eccentric evidence room lackey, Jim Stone, who stumbles onto the score of a lifetime while gathering data at an ostensibly routine crime scene. Along with David Waters (Elijah Wood), another LVPD nobody, Stone hatches a plan to rob a secret safe that may contain millions of dollars in illicit booty. By no means a reinvention of the sleazoid crime saga wheel, The Trust is still a noble entry into the gene, defined by fun, ping pong performances by both Cage (who’s living just across the border from a town called “Restraint”) and Wood.
Upon first glance, Elijah Wood probably seems like an unlikely foil for Cage, and even as the movie unfolds, this remains mostly true. However, Wood brings an incredible sense of comedic timing to his downtrodden detective (his character's introduction is flat out hilarious). Every time Cage pops off with a wicked chuckle, flashes a rubbery eyebrow raise or begins screaming in his co-star's face, Wood maintains a sense of "what's up with this motherfucker?" straight man cool that really works. In a way, Wood's performance almost comes off as self-aware – an actor reacting to one of our strangest performers clearly playing a fictional character. The Trust never really goes for realism, always existing in a state of heightened pulp, so this sense of metatextual playfulness is a joy to behold, as the actor’s big blue eyes often threaten to pop out of his skull whilst reacting to Cage's wild man with a badge.
As for Cage himself, there is plenty of crank hilarity to be found in his Jim Stone, but the actor never quite tips over into full-blown insanity (which may or may not be a disappointment for some). Sporting a skeevy ‘stache and sucking down lemons covered in Tabasco sauce, Stone fits somewhere in-between Terence McDonagh (Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans) and Rick Santoro (Snake Eyes). We’ve seen Cage do this type of character before (and better), but that doesn’t mean he isn’t bringing anything new to the table. There’s an evil to Stone that slowly slips out as the simplistic story plods along, adding a menace that has long been absent from Cage’s often-cartoonish performances. He’s having fun, but the black heart of this bad man is fully realized, rendering the detective a rather well rounded character.
Aesthetically, The Trust exists in the back alleys and neon lit bars of Las Vegas. Directing duo Alex and Benjamin Brewer know their off the grid locations, and employ the lens of gifted cinematographer Sean Porter (Green Room, Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter) to capture the city in all of its seedy glory. The Trust is a Las Vegas movie that takes place far away from the strip; in the forgotten parts of town where bullets are sprayed, bodies are dumped and blowjobs are administered. While far from perfect or totally unique, the Brewers’ picture totally delivers on its gutter promise, even if the finale may lack the panache of the preceding seventy minutes. As far as how it stacks up with the rest of Cage’s now legendary body of work: it’ll be a true treat for fans (as well as bullshit ironic tourists), but those already unconvinced by the mega acting God’s status will probably find little to enjoy.