Greed is good in '99 Homes'; the watchable awfulness of 'Dangerous Men'

When Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street” was released in 1987, a classic villain was born. Power-hungry corporate player Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) broke the law, got rich, and espoused that “greed, for lack of a better term, is good.”

Ninety-nine percent of America understood that Gekko was the bad guy, but to many of the eager young opportunists getting into the stockbroker game after the film’s release, Gekko became a true American hero.

Those same people might also root for real estate weasel Rick Carver (Michael Shannon) in writer/director Ramin Bahrani’s button-pushing new movie “99 Homes,” playing at Liberty Hall. Much of the film is shot like a white-knuckle action sequence with lots of shaky handheld work alternating extreme closeups of characters, who are under serious duress.

In the film’s gripping opening scene, a homeowner has committed suicide in the bathroom while Carver uses gallows humor to detach from the overwhelming humanity of it all, stalking around outside, trying to avoid the man’s distraught family. It’s routine for Carver, who carries a handgun when he carries out forced evictions. The foreclosure market is big in Orlando, and Carver makes a good living off the misery of others.

Construction contractor Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield), on the other hand, takes pride in building homes to make a living. That side of the market isn’t doing so well, so he finds himself on the receiving end of one of Carver’s unwelcome house calls. If you can accept that a man will do anything to protect his family, it’s easier to swallow when Dennis begins working for Carver.

Having already sucked us in to Dennis’ plight and the visceral desperation of people who are losing their homes, Bahrani spins the plot off into many directions, forcing us not only to question what we would do in Dennis’ situation, but also face the truly ugly side of a deeply flawed system. As Carver says, “America doesn’t bail out losers. America was built on bailing out winners.”

Shannon is a force of nature; his confident stride and piercing eyes project an air of unflappability, which is just what Carver wants people to believe. There can’t be any doubt coming from the guy who’s telling you that you’re now trespassing in your own house. He’s just upholding the law, after all — just doing his job.

Dennis is more in touch with his humanity, so he isn’t as good at that job, and one of the many joys of “99 Homes” is feeling like we’re in his head as he rationalizes his decision to work for Carver. The use of the word “home” in the title rather than “house” is deliberate. Dennis wants to save his childhood family home. Carver insists that he’s looking at it wrong: A house is just a big box that holds your stuff. This difference of philosophy echoes the fundamental conflict of achieving the American Dream: At what cost?

Bahrani and co-writer Amir Naderi give Dennis another rationalization and supply the audience a subversive kick when its revealed that Carver doesn’t just make his money on foreclosures, he’s also found a loophole to stick it to the banks. Even that can’t be simple, however, because it opens up the door to other illegalities and some of the earlier plot threads pay off handsomely in a finale that is as mournful as it is perfect.

“99 Homes” is a smart character drama — one of the best of the year — that raises all kinds of timely questions and will likely get your blood boiling. More than that, it’s a thriller that may leave you breathless. This comes partly from the expertly shot “you are there” camerawork and rising score, but it also comes from moments of conflict that are pitched at a very high level. Emotions are high, lives are at stake, and something is very, very wrong.

Knowing this, who can blame Dennis for wanting to be with his family, among the 1-percenters on Noah’s Ark, while everyone else drowns?

“99 Homes” is 112 tense minutes and is rated R for language, including some sexual references and a brief violent image.

'Dangerous Men'

The only thing weirder than a weird true story is the real “art” that’s borne from that weirdness, because yes — it’s even weirder.

Public Alamo Drafthouse screenings helped “Troll 2” to its deserved place atop the “best worst movie” throne, and last year Drafthouse Films re-discovered the glorious 1980s VHS curiosity “Miami Connection.” This weekend, the re-issue branch of Drafthouse Films adds another triumph to its catalog with the re-release of the one-of-a-kind revenge-fantasy-romance-mystery-action movie “Dangerous Men.”

The movie fails at every one of those genres, of course, and by doing so, boldly forges its own genre of passionate incompetence. Unlike the quick-cash opportunism of most “bad” movies, “Dangerous Men” was a labor of love, shot with little to no budget off and on, over 20 years. That explains why characters suddenly gain and lose weight, or just plain disappear, taking their plotlines with them.

Iranian-born businessman Jahangir Salehi Yeganehrad moved to Los Angeles in the 1980s with a dream. In his spare time, the untrained auteur wrote, produced, edited, directed and composed the music for “Dangerous Men” under the name John S. Rad. After losing multiple cast members and changing his screenplay to go in new directions, he finally finished his opus, and it was shown to little fanfare in a couple of theaters in Los Angeles in 2006.

I thoroughly enjoyed watching “Dangerous Men” at home, and I can only imagine what its like to see it with a crowd. For one week, audiences here can see it at the Alamo Drafthouse Kansas City. With every new minute, there’s another head-scratching choice that’s bound to elicit some amazing out-loud responses, so this feels like a true party flick.

Make no mistake though, this is outsider art to the utmost degree. It is not competently made by any stretch of the imagination, which is precisely why it stretches the imagination.

“Dangerous Men” is 80 minutes of unrated, nonsensical revenge and un-mystery with a blaring synth-pop soundtrack of maybe, like, three tunes.

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