99 Homes. I Feel Bad For You Son.

poster-xlargeHow does a film about the housing market crisis grab you? Whoop whoop! You’re hoiking your trainers on and sprinting down to your local multiplex as we speak! No? Well you ought to, for 99 Homes is easily the most intelligent and gripping film The Sloth has seen so far this year. Trust us.

 

Nash (Andrew Garfield) is a single father in Florida, struggling to make ends meet with dead end, ad hoc construction work. Trouble is, being in dead end, ad hoc jobs, he’s not been able to pay his mortgage instalments and the court has ordered repossession. We meet him as real estate agent Rick Carver (Michael Shannon) is coldly turfing Nash, his young son and Nash’s mother (Laura Dern) out on the street.

 

Relocated to a cheap motel and desperate for money, Nash is offered a labouring job by Carver. Overcoming his aversion he accepts, being careful to conceal from his family the not insignificant fact that he is working for the man who ruined their lives. Before long, the slick, moneyed and predatory Carver suggests he start working for him full time, first as a handyman but then as a repossession agent himself. Nash, with only a modicum of reflection, accepts. Then faces the moral cost of earning cash at the expense of human suffering.

 

99 Homes is so, so much more than a film about the property market.  It’s a morality play with echoes of Greek tragedy, plus a good slice of poetry thrown in. Dr Faustus may be the obvious comparison, but the script (co-written by director Ramin Bahrami) is littered with evocative images and metaphors bordering on the Shakespearean, from Nash’s descriptions of himself as drowning, or Carver’s (whose name is hardly a coincidence) warning that Florida’s “gators never sleep”.

 

This isn’t an easy watch but it’s an important film that is not just about housing, but about human greed. And the actors rise to the same level as the script. Andrew Garfield in particular gives an outstanding performance, his conflicting emotions and desperation written all over his face. Go see it. And be afraid.

UK release 25 September

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The Iceman. Murder On The Rocks.

icemanWarning: This movie contains significant volumes of bad facial hair. From the Trucker Handlebar through the Goatee ‘n’ Tache combo, to a straight up, take-no-prisoners Bushy Full Beard, The Iceman is part true life crime drama, part History Of Male Chin Adornment, 1964-1980.

Michael Shannon plays Richard Kuklinski, a notorious contract killer responsible for the deaths of over 100 people. Clearly an odd character to begin with, the film traces his life story from his awkward courting of future wife Deborah, played by Winona Ryder. Having asked her out for coffee, he stares blankly at his cup, leaving Winona to make the conversation. Well, how could a girl say no?

Unknown to Winona, he doesn’t dub Disney films for a living as he claims, but porn, working for local crime lord Ray Liotta. Ray cruises around in chauffeur driven sedans, gets called “bwoss” and waves guns in the faces of those who annoy him.  When Ray decides he’s had enough of porn and closes the business down, Michael is left unemployed. But no matter, because Ray waves his gun in Michael’s face and offers him alternative employment as a hitman. Well, how could a boy say no?

Turns out Michael is a natural, despatching villains with ice cold aplomb, to the innocence of his family who believe his sudden affluence is due to a new job in finance. But in the criminal underworld you’re only as good as your last hit and when things start to go wrong, Michael finds he’s bitten the hand that feeds him. And you don’t want to annoy Ray.

Gritty and noir-ish, it’s a solid crime thriller, all the more interesting for being a true story. And if all that hair was real, The Sloth salutes the testosterone.

UK release 7 June 2013

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