Bahrani's latest feels like a direct riposte to Martin Scorsese's Wolf of Wall Street (2013), whilst channelling Scorsese's earlier gangster movie vibe and energy. Nash is almost like a Donnie Brasco or Michael Corleone, entering into a world to which he is fundamentally morally opposed but becoming increasingly complicit and exposed as he finds himself surprisingly adept at the dark arts. His relationship with Carver turns from initial hatred to something like admiration, as he gazes with wonder at Carver's palatial homes and material wealth, listening to Carver rap out a Manichean world-view that makes Gordon Gekko look like a bleeding-heart socialist. "Are you a religious man, Nash? For ever one saved, a hundred drowned," he schools his protégé. Garfield convincingly portrays Nash's move to the dark side as a gradual but compelling series of compromises.
Pitched against his own people, Nash struggles with his conscience as he is gripped with a yearning to get a break in what has so far been a life rife in disappointment and poverty. Shannon, meanwhile, is stupendous as Carver, a man of immense power, but someone who is also fully cognisant of the immorality that makes his success possible. He's a man who will own many houses without ever really feeling at home. As with 2012's At Any Price - which also screened at Venice - Bahrani's movie sheds light on an under- represented, marginalised America - in the previous case that of big agro-business - and he's finding a rich dramatic vein out there. With 99 Homes, he's created a complex and thoughtful political drama with the speed and tension of a good thriller.
The 71st Venice Film Festival takes place from 27 August to 6 September 2014. For more coverage, follow this link.