Sword of Trust (2019)

R Running Time: 88 mins



  • Refreshing in its comedy, bold in its storytelling, Sword of Trust is a cinematic breath of fresh air.

  • Writer/director Lynn Shelton hits her stride once again, with a clever and observant tale of how what we do matters and the impact we leave on those around us.

  • One of the best ensemble casts of 2019.


  • The humor is dry and observational, which may not be to everyone’s particular tastes.

  • The premise may rub some people the wrong way, even if the absurdity and satirical nature of it says more about you being unable to laugh along with it.

  • Some have called the film smug because of course they have.


A movie far more emotional and soul-baring than one might anticipate, Lynn Shelton’s latest film, Sword of Trust, gives us a sword, and trust issues, to contemplate in an Alabama-oriented comedy of four people brought together by the most unlikely of reasons.

Cynthia (Jillian Bell) and wife Mary (Michaela Watkins) have traveled to Birmingham, Alabama to collect an inheritance left behind by Cynthia’s recently deceased grandfather. Expecting some significant life-changing impacts from his passing, they are stunned to see that all that has been left for Cynthia is a battle-used sword from the Civil War. The weapon is authenticated, seems legitimate, and comes with a letter claiming the sword amplifies proof that the South prevailed in the Civil War, a fact covered up and lied about for generations.

Looking to divest themselves of the item, Cynthia and Mary wander into a nearby pawn shop owned by Mel (Marc Maron), perpetuating Cynthia’s grandfather’s claims in the hopes it drives up the price. After sending them away, Mel’s dim-witted, but well-intentioned assistant Nathaniel (Jon Bass) uncovers a world of Civil War “Truthers” on the internet, who share the same beliefs articulated in the letter left for Cynthia. Recognizing a collector’s market exists for items which prove the South won the war, Mel reaches back out to Cynthia and Mary, and the four begin an unlikely partnership to sell the sword for top dollar.

Honestly, Sword of Trust was simply my jam. The quick-witted, dry, observational comedy of the piece underscores how real people deal with absurd and untenable problems and situations. The film proves to be another triumph for the quiet, unassuming Shelton, woefully underrated, who co-wrote the screenplay with “Saturday Night Live” alum Mike O’Brien (found here in an opening cameo).

Shelton’s concept is densely layered, even if rather easily explained. Largely what makes her such an effective storyteller is her ability to dig into the emotions of the stories she is telling, no matter how they are presented or pitched.

With Sword of Trust, the sketch-like set-up gives way to effective discussions about family loyalty, love, and reasonable expectations. Mel seems a few steps behind the world happening outside of his pawn shop, while Nathaniel seems to be too connected digitally to be able to engage in emotional connections existing beyond a screen.

The acting is top-notch, especially in the case of Maron, who uses a genuine, somewhat unpolished approach to build a character that is wholly real and believable. His agony over a former lover who has fallen on hard times (played by Shelton), coupled with his exasperation in both the situation he finds himself in with the sword and his life in general, feel true and honest. Bell has never been better as Cynthia, a pleaser and appeaser, creating wonderful chemistry alongside Watkins’ Mary, who sees those qualities in her wife and tries to protect and defend her at every opportunity.

Beyond the four main performances, the world these characters wander into is steeped in stereotypes that some viewers might take issue with. However, Shelton’s inclination to let her actors improv and riff with one another is heightened by the way Maron reacts to a delirious performance by an artifact collector known as Hog Jaws (Toby Huss), as well as two bumbling fools they encounter, named Zeke and Jake (Timothy Paul, Whitmer Thomas).

Amusing throughout, surprisingly effective emotionally, and payloading some hilarious comedic moments, Sword of Trust is something of an undiscovered gem of 2019. True to form, Lynn Shelton has quietly dropped a wonderful little movie into the world for all of us to see and I truly hope you find it. You’ll be glad you did.


Starring: Marc Maron, Jillian Bell, Michaela Watkins, Jon Bass, Toby Huss, Dan Bakkedahl, Lynn Shelton, Timothy Paul, Whitmer Thomas, Al Elliott.

Director: Lynn Shelton
Written by: Lynn Shelton, Mike O’Brien
Release Date: July 19, 2019
IFC Films