This harrowing morality play is timely and riveting, but never remotely subtle. The setting is the mortgage crisis, during which savvy fast-talkers figured out how to make a fortune on the back of other people's tragedy. It's strikingly written and directed by Iranian-American filmmaker Ramin Bahrani with an attention to internalised detail, revealing an aspect of Western culture that's deeply disturbing.
It's 2010, and the economy is in freefall as families and small businesses struggle to survive. When Florida builder Dennis (Andrew Garfield) loses his job, he has no idea how he'll support his mother and son (Laura Dern and Noah Lomax). Unable to pay their inflated mortgage, they're evicted from the family home by ruthless estate agent Rick (Michael Shannon). Then Rick sees something in Dennis that he admires, and hires him to do some building work, eventually taking him under his wing and teaching him how to profit from the record number of repossessions. But this means taking advantage of government grants, banking loopholes and people whose lives have collapsed. And it isn't long before it starts eating away at Dennis.
Garfield gives an open, searching performance as this desperate young father who's grasping at any lifeline he can find for his family. It's a complex, difficult character, mainly because his moral dithering sits in contrast to Shannon's flashier, shark-like Rick, who's often scary in the way he's able to avoid empathising with people in pain. In a much smaller role, Dern is the polar opposite, a warm blast of straight-arrow morality who continually prods her son to do the right thing. Yes, these characters are somewhat constructed as three points in a triangle, but they beautifully highlight the issues involved. And the actors dig deep into the emotional ramifications.
Continue reading: 99 Homes Review
Although the plot itself is nothing special, this kidnapping comedy keeps the audience entertained by filling every scene with outrageous characters and twisty interaction. Based on an Elmore Leonard book, this free-wheeling movie is such a tangle of colourful people and riotous 1980s hairstyles that it can't help but be enjoyable. Especially once we realise that the story isn't the most important thing.
It's set in 1984 Detroit, where trophy wife Mickey (Jennifer Aniston) has finally had it with her chilly husband Frank (Tim Robbins). As she's thinking about taking their son (Charlie Tahan) and leaving, he's holed up in the Bahamas with his mistress Melanie (Isla Fisher) while preparing to serve Mickey with divorce papers. Just then, low-life criminals Louis and Ordell (John Hawkes and Yasiin Bey, aka Mos Def), kidnap Mickey and demand a $1 million ransom. Of course, Frank thinks his problem is solved until he realises that they also know about his dodgy business dealings. And things are further complicated by Louis and Ordell's Nazi-loving sidekick (Mark Boone Junior) and an amorous dork (Will Forte) who's in love with Mickey.
As the chaos escalates, writer-director Daniel Schechter keeps the focus tightly on the offbeat characters rather than the gyrations of the narrative. This makes it easy to identify with everyone on-screen, particularly Aniston and Hawkes, who have the most complex roles. They're the only people who have either emotional shadings or a story arc to travel, so watching them become increasingly aware of the opportunities around them is a lot of fun. Everyone else is here to get laughs, and it's amusing to see each of them reveal things about themselves that add to the mayhem, from Fisher's surprisingly savvy bombshell to Bey's womanising prowess. And of course each character approaches the various moral dilemmas from a distinct angle.
Continue reading: Life Of Crime Review
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