What’s better than finding a little-known film that’s actually pretty good? Finding two that go together! Here are the spoils of my latest themed double feature.
The Trust is a 2016 direct-to-DirecTV film by first time directors Alex and Ben Brewer starring Nicolas Cage and Elijah Wood that could most succinctly be described as the anti-Ocean’s Eleven. This low-budget, down-to-earth heist film also takes place in Las Vegas, but there’s not a casino vault or a three-piece suit in sight. Instead we have two disillusioned cops in the Las Vegas Evidence Management unit who come across evidence of a secret drug-money vault that no one else seems to have noticed and decide–screw it, let’s steal whatever’s in there.
The structure of the film is as simple as the planned heist, but where it excels is in its attention to the mundane details of life as a cop-turned-thief. The story is fiction, but it feels like it should have said “based on a true story” at the beginning, such is the tangible nature of its gritty version of Las Vegas. Add to that the subdued but nuanced portrayal of Wood’s and Cages’s characters, and it’s like the mumblecore version of a heist thriller.
Speaking of Nicolas Cage, I think it’s almost always worth seeing something when he’s in it. Good, bad, or somewhere in between, you can always count on Cage to act unlike any other human would, to often entertaining results. I definitely only put this movie on in the first place because of its odd couple leads. What’s surprising about The Trust is how grounded Cage’s performance is. His frustrated police lieutenant is an interesting foil for the younger Elijah Wood’s pothead sergeant, and for once he seems like the most sane person in the room. About half an hour into the film, my girlfriend turned to me and said, I thought this movie would be goofier. It is only gradually throughout the film, as the heist begins to unravel and the pressure mounts that Cage slowly reveals himself to be more and more unhinged until the climax when he finally goes full Cage. Surrounded as it is by such a grounded movie, that pivotal scene, where Cage finally delivers the over-the-top performance that we have come to expect, was actually genuinely shocking (akin to the powerful scene in John Wick where soft-spoken Keanu finally lets go and bellows with rage). You can guess near the beginning how this story is probably going to end–in fact, one suspects that maybe the two leads can too–but it’s a pretty interesting journey.
Alright, that was cool but it wasn’t silly enough, so let’s follow it up with…Masterminds! This is another 2016 flop directed by Jared Hess (of Napoleon Dynamite), and this one actually is based on a true story–namely, the 1997 Loomis Fargo armored car company heist in North Carolina, which remains the largest cash heist in US history. From that premise, you’d expect a pretty similar feel and tone to The Trust, until you see the cast. Masterminds stars Zach Galifianakis alongside Owen Wilson, Jason Sudeikis, and three fourths of the new Ghostbusters. It’s fun.
Zach plays David Scott Ghantt, a dopey, honest redneck working for Loomis Fargo armored car company who drives a truck with a door made of plywood and dreams of adventure. Despite being engaged to crazy-balls Kate McKinnon, Ghantt is infatuated by fellow employee Kristen Wiig who, directed by “mastermind” Owen Wilson, honey-pots Ghantt into robbing the surprisingly poorly guarded cash vault at Loomis Fargo. The fallout of the heist involves Ghantt fleeing to Mexico, Owen Wilson trying to cut him out, and Kristen Wiig stuck between the mastermind’s plan and her affection for the patsy, Ghantt. Add in Sudeikis’s eccentric-happy-go-lucky hitman and Leslie Jones’s no-bullshit detective, and hilarity ensues.
Masterminds is light, breezy, and fun. I was surprised to find it was directed by the guy behind Napoleon Dynamite–it doesn’t have the same level of quirk-for-quirk’s sake that turned me off of that film. It’s strange that out of the two movies here, this is the one based on a real heist, although I’m sure only the basic factual framework made it onto the screen. The Trust and Masterminds made a great weekend double feature, since they’re two polar opposite takes on an extremely similar plot framework. I had fun, and you will too.