99 Homes and The Walk

99 Homes and The Walk are two marvelous films that feature remarkable performances by their lead actors but are still difficult to watch. Ramin Bahrani's 99 Homes stars Andrew Garfield (a fine actor) as a construction worker in Central Florida who is trying to hold onto his family home even as foreclosure looms. The angel of death finally arrives in the form of a cold-blooded, unscrupulous real estate scarfer named Rick Carver (a superlative Michael Shannon) who meets Garfield's Dennis Nash on the latter's doorstep during an eviction. Nash had been assured by a judge the day before that he had 30 days to appeal the eviction. Carver claimed to know nothing of this extension and has his goons toss Nash, his 10-year-old son, Connor (Noah Lomax), and his mother (Laura Dern) into the street. This early scene is one of the most disturbing I've seen in film this year, and it is only one of several that feature Garfield's Nash trapped in the grip of a vise that pressures and twists him torturously until he doesn't recognize himself. This is a thoughtful and sensitive film that is both a searing critique of those who preyed upon Middle America before and after the economic collapse of 2008 and a morality tale of how one man lost his home and his way and nearly lost his soul. Highly recommended.

Few actors are as amiable of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and he pours all of his preternatural likeability into his role as high wire walker Philippe Petit in Robert Zemeckis' vertigo-inducing The Walk. (It must be seen in 3D.) Petit was the subject of the 2008 documentary Man on Wire, which won the Oscar for best documentary feature in 2009 but there is little similarity between the two films. Zemeckis' imaginative and romantic retelling of Petit's high wire walk between the Twin Towers in 1974 is the story of man's love affair with "the void," the gulf that lies below the high wire. It's not that Petit courts self-destruction. It's more that he knows his life belongs to the wire but he enjoys teasing and enticing the void. As the Frenchman Petit, Gordon-Levitt, a fully engaged (and engaging) performer, recounts the original inspiration for the feat and his recruitment of "accomplices" (principally Charlotte Le Bon and Clement Sibony) in Paris and in New York to pull it off. Yes, Gordon-Levitt is terrific but the stomach-turning recreation of the infamous walk between the towers is astonishing. Highly recommended.


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