MOVIE REVIEW: ’99 Homes’ Is A Thrilling Tale Of Foreclosure

Film: 99 Homes
Starring: Michael Shannon, Andrew Garfield
Directed by: Ramin Bahrani

Combining award-worthy performances with taut, thrilling narrative, 99 Homes is a chilling economic parable that speaks to the deepest fears of every man and woman hoping to provide for their family.

Rick Carver (Michael Shannon) is not an evil man, though many believe him to be the devil. Rick is a real estate broker who happened to be assigned the undesirable task of evicting many families in the greater Orlando area from their home at the height of a 2010 housing crisis. As Rick sees it, if he didn’t do his job someone else would, and then it would be Rick who found himself answering the door to learn he had lost his home. That is something Rick cannot allow, so he carries out his task with each passing day, and he does his best to not let the emotional responses from those he must evict get under his skin.

Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield) is a lower middle class civilian trying his best to support his mother (Laura Dern), as well as his young son (Noah Lomax), but no matter how hard Dennis works he can never seem to get ahead. He ensures his son is never hungry, but he fails to pay his bills on time, including the mortgage on his family home. He goes to court in order to fight for his house, but the judge rules against him.

Near the top of 99 Homes we see Nash meet Carver as his family loses their house in a long, truly heartbreaking sequence. It’s like watching your worst nightmare play out before you, with very few cuts and even less close-ups. Director Ramin Bahrani allows the scene to breathe, offering a one of a kind look at a family being stripped of the only home they have ever known, all while Carver and his police escorts maintain a stoic presence. It’s utterly depressing, but also intensely riveting, and it opens up the film to a world of endless possibilities.

The route the story chooses to travel is one that twists the timeless tale of making a deal with the devil and applies it to the recent housing crisis. As soon as Nash realizes he can only get his house back with a large amount of cash he sets to finding a new career, but soon finds there are very few jobs on the open market. A second chance encounter with Carver provides a path to quick cash for Nash as long as he’s willing to overlook a few legal matters, and soon Carver comes calling with a second offer. This leads to a third, and then a fourth, and before you know it Nash is knee-deep in the business of Rick Carver Realty. Whether it’s stripping homes Carver owns of air conditioner units in order to trick the government into reimbursing Rick, or putting families just like his own on the street by carrying out evictions, Nash is Carver’s go-to hitman. It’s not work Nash is proud to do, and he does everything in his power to keep his new role from his family, but the money is simply too good to deny.

As Nash and Carver grow closer through their business endeavors, Bahrani does a fine job of keeping the narrative possibilities numerous with an endless slew of ever-so-slight twists and turns that slowly coil around the viewer and pull them in. The world Carver and Nash inhabit is fully alive, with seemingly everyday people in dire straights begging for a helping hand that never comes. The only ones who get ahead are those who help themselves, and with Carver as his guide to survival Nash begins to become more and more like the man he hated at the top of the story. I don’t believe he ever forgives Carver, but he does learn to see him as merely a tiny piece of a larger, incredibly corrupt system that cares not for the well being of Nash and his family. Carver is doing what he must, as is Nash, and Bahrani masterfully explores the parallels of their lives without forcing the audience to feel one way or another about the actions spurred by their mutual desire to lose their home. Those judgments are reserved for the audience to make on their own.

It should come as no surprise that the performances in 99 Homes are a big part of what make it so great, especially with Michael Shannon in the lead role. Shannon has long proven himself to be an incendiary on-screen presence, and Rick Carver provides him with a platform to showcase his wide range of acting talent. It would be easy for Carver to come across as completely cold and callous, which would not be far from the truth, but Shannon finds a way to present him in such a way that you feel empathy. You learn to understand why he is the way he is, and a lot of that is owed to Shannon’s delivery.

Andrew Garfield, the wild card of the cast, also delivers an impressive turn as Dennis Nash. The role would be challenging for any actor, as it requires a taut balance of heartache, anger, and resolve, but Garfield pulls it off with impressive skill. I spent a good portion of the film wondering where Garfield put his acting chops during production on The Amazing Spider-Man series, and the other half wondering what other intriguing roles the young actor might take on in the years ahead. 99 Homes may one day be viewed as the film that saved Andrew Garfield, and I for one would wholeheartedly agree.

99 Homes is proof that the late Roger Ebert was not losing his mind when he claimed Ramin Bahrani was one of the greatest filmmakers of this generation. The term ‘foreclosure movie’ is rarely synonymous with thrilling entertainment, but this particular feature finds a dizzying world of deceit and tough decision-making set against the recent housing crisis that is aided by commanding performances from some of Hollywood’s brightest stars. It’s an incredible viewing experience, and I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if both Shannon and Bahrani were recognized by the Academy Awards when it comes time to name the best films of 2015.


James Shotwell
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