If your film features a harsh, cold SOB, call Michael Shannon’s manager. He’ll deliver a top-of-the-line performance, hard for anyone else in the cast to match.
No matter what happens in the script, Shannon’s screen persona looks ticked off — as if his shoes were full of gravel. Crime thriller (“The Iceman”), indie tragedy (“Revolutionary Road”), comic book blockbuster (“Man of Steel”), period piece TV (“Boardwalk Empire”), whatever, Shannon delivers ominous black clouds of danger, as immense as smoke choking a fiery oil field.
Of course, Shannon will steal your film, but he’s worth it.
In “99 Homes,” Shannon is Rick Carver, a great white shark of the Florida realty world. Rick’s specialty is not selling properties but seizing those occupied by foreclosed owners. With court orders and a pair of backup policemen, he performs an economic version of aggravated assault, dragging away the residents whether they leave with tears, legal threats or firearms. Welcome to the Sunshine State.
Andrew Garfield plays Dennis Nash, whose home, shared with his hairdresser mother (Laura Dern) and grade-school son, is seized following a payment misunderstanding. Rick sees Dennis, a blue-collar builder, as a useful flunky. His arrogance pulls back a bit as hardworking Dennis, desperate to reclaim his family’s home, inches up from manual labor apprentice to junior colleague.
Soon he is a welcome passenger in Rick’s Range Rover, copying his wardrobe to impress Rick’s well-heeled clients. Dennis, who feels there is more to the measure of a man than the size of his bank account, feels he’s working to help his older and younger generation. That ethical code evaporates as he begins evicting parents of his boy’s schoolmates. Soon he is deep in the corporate Everglades.
Garfield (“The Amazing Spider-Man,” “The Social Network”) and Shannon make a fine team as men on different steppingstones of moral transformation. Scene by scene they turn a business drama that could have been a lecture into a bloodcurdling morality play.
When they end up flat on a lakeside dock after a late, boozy party, Rick tells Dennis to watch out for the crocodiles. He could be talking about actual reptiles, his business partners or himself. In jolts of gallows humor and cutthroat grimaces, Shannon creates the kind of performance that makes you want an intravenous drip of blood pressure meds.
The film, written and directed by Ramin Bahrani (“Man Push Cart,” “Chop Shop,” “Goodbye Solo”), is a blistering indictment of avarice. Bahrani has neither an all-out villain nor a hero here. He sees greed as an infectious corruption that can hit the poor victims of eviction and the courts enforcing it, as well as the shady operators imposing it. This is a film of palpable anger, a finger on the pulse of modern America crafted by a team of rare ability to awaken outrage.
Best of all, it’s vintage Shannon.
☆☆☆☆ out of 5 stars
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Michael Shannon, Laura Dern, Tim Guinee, J.D. Evermore.
Director: Ramin Bahrani.
Running time: 1:52.
Rated: R, for language including some sexual references, and a brief violent image.