If it didn’t frequently come from such a violently bigoted place and wasn’t a major part of what is eroding American democracy, conspiracism would be downright hilarious! “Let him finish eating those paint chips so he can tell us about Abraham Lincoln’s illegitimate Martian love child” is now a nightly cable news segment.
Sword of Trust isn’t a fiery treatise against this dangerous nonsense so much as a breezy poke at morons educated by YouTube historians. Filled with the kind of charismatic nonchalance that was once the hallmark of indie cinema, it’s a pleasing echo of Christopher Guest–esque comedy that also features the best-named character in recent memory: Hog Jaws (Toby Huss).
This will come as a shock, but Marc Maron plays a bitter-but-begrudgingly-kind quasi-douchebag named Mel. Cynthia (Jillian Bell) and her partner, Mary (Michaela Watkins), show up at Mel’s pawn shop to sell a Civil War sword. Allegedly, this sword is physical proof that the South actually won the “War of Northern Aggression.”
Because racist lunacy can be exceptionally profitable, Mel has his employee Nathanial (Jon Bass) contact a buyer willing to pay a staggering amount of American dollars for this patently anti-American artifact. You can bet good currency of any kind that a deal with Confederate collectors is likely to end with someone at gunpoint.
What makes Sword of Truth coyly captivating is director Lynn Shelton’s nimble, loose grip. She lets Bell, Maron, and Watkins riff and roll within reason, supplementing their plot-based contriving with lightly tender backstories. Shelton herself, who also wrote the film with Michael Patrick O’Brien, briefly appears as Deirdre, whose quiet tragedy motivates Mel’s character without it feeling like exploitation.
Watkins may get the most guffaws, but Huss and Dan Bakkedahl make the most of minor roles; one inflates a Confederate dunce with grotesquery until he’s just about to pop, and the other makes references to an unseen torture room feel surprisingly delightful. Maron and Bell may not be stretching their range much, but doing what you do best is a stunningly underrecognized good way to do all things.
At times, Sword of Truth seems to recognize that a comprehensive takedown of certain conspiracy theorists is vital to the future of civilization. Instead of actually serving as that takedown itself, the film feels more like an affable and clever stoner opining about a problem and ending with “Someone should really do something about that.”
Comedy is the weapon feared most by chemtrail watchers and Alex Jones enthusiasts. Argue with them as rational adults, and they feel emboldened by the legitimacy. Point and laugh at them, and their tinfoil hats are likely to shoot right off the edge of our flat earth. Wanting something more than what Sword of Truth does doesn’t make it a lesser film. It is exactly the wordy, character-centric, giggle-heavy semi-satire it set out to be.
Grade = B+