Essentially Wall Street for the era of the U.S. bailout and sub-prime mortgage collapse, this assured return to form for filmmaker Ramin Bahrani (Man Push Cart, Goodbye Solo, At Any Price) benefits from a wealth of style and tension and a pair of exceptionally matched leading performances.
After being evicted from his childhood home for defaulting on his mortgage and having nowhere to bring his mother (Laura Dern) and his son, underemployed construction contractor Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield) takes a job working for the wealthy con artist realtor (Michael Shannon) who bought his house for a song. Dennis begins to learn his way around the housing bubble, making a ton of cash while helping to boot out people as poor as he is, all while helping to put together a massive deal that could end up in the selling of his own soul.
Shannon delivers typically excellent work, but here he gets to play off of an exemplary and highly thoughtful turn from Garfield, who’s perfectly cast in the best role he’s been given yet. They’re helped along by some great direction, staging, pacing, and editing by Bahrani who makes every sequence – no matter how seemingly inconsequential – carry a massive burden of emotional and financial weight. The early eviction scene where Garfield has to tearfully watch as Shannon and the sheriff’s department throw his family out onto the street is exquisite and might be the best singular scene in a film made this year.
The finale might not resolve some nagging questions about Dennis or his boss’ past, and it’s pretty on the nose in terms of where the plot decides it wants to wrap up, but that doesn’t dampen the overall impact that much. Bahrani, Shannon, and Garfield still find a way to make it work.