99 Homes: A Slice of Soured American Dreams – (Review)

Written and directed by Ramin Bahrani (an auteur who has been described as the new chronicle of US cinema) 99 Homes offers up a slice of the American dream that has been soured…

Andrew Garfield and Michael Shannon living the sour American dream

Written and directed by Ramin Bahrani (an auteur who has been described as the new chronicle of US cinema) 99 Homes offers up a slice of  the American dream that has been soured by the banks, entrepreneurs and an economy designed to suck the life out of the lower-middle class.  Starring the powerhouse that is Michael Shannon and Spiderman reboot star Andrew Garfield (in a serious role not reliant upon Stan Lee’s web slinger or comic books) this film festival favorite is a disturbing look at how honest sweat and labor has been overwhelmed by deal making and double dealing. 

Garfield is “everyman” carpenter Dennis Nash who loses his family  home to the bank. The institution gives the single parent  conflicting information that allows him to fall behind with his payments.  House reclamation expert Rick Carver (Shannon) shows up to take the home way from Nash for the bank.  Later, Dennis begins working for Carver and gets swept up in the nefarious dealings of the dour repossessor for the inept financial institutes who has learned to play the system and earn big money.

Laura Dern plays Nash’s hairdresser mother Lynn and Noah Lomax plays Nash’s son Connor.  Bahrani takes the viewer on an uncomfortable ride where Garfield’s character becomes embroiled in the shadowy and illegal practices of Carver and his real estate company after being forced out of his home and losing everything he holds dear. 

When one of  Carver’s workmen steals some of Dennis’ tools, the man goes to get them back and ends up working pro bono for the repression agent.  Nash has an immediate goal of reclaiming his family home. Later, Dennis loses sight of himself and his own moral compass as the greed and loopholes in the fractured system allow him to succeed beyond his wildest dreams.

99 Homes is, at times, extremely uncomfortable viewing. Nash’s humiliation, from a  range of avenues; the court, the bank, the repossession agency, is complete and soul destroying. His fruitless search for work and  temporary living accommodations at a hotel full of destitute refugees whose homes have all be repossessed force Dennis to begin working full time for the very man who took his house away for the bank.

Garfield is brilliant as the single father whose home and, by association,  life  is “stolen” by banks whose employees are making a killing by repossessing houses. Dennis Nash is not the brightest tool in the shed but has an innate honesty and a good heart that becomes polluted by his circumstance and the awareness  that he is actually rather good at repossessing homes and making money on the side from it.

Nash’s journey is a revealing look at someone facing and then working for their own personal demon.  Shannon’s character is a predator who cruises neighborhoods for potential repossessions. His business plans include stripping the houses of air conditioner units and swimming pool filter systems, as well as gutting the place from the previous owners,  while playing both sides against the middle.

In Bahrani’s America shaky financing and loopholes allow sharks like Carver and Mr. Freeman (Clancy Brown in a performance of impressive stature, although for  a plot definitive cameo the part is of “blink and you will miss” him duration) the ability to milk the system as they make a fortune out of other people’s misfortune.

Carver is an e-cigarette puffing money-making machine who has no empathy for the individuals who bankroll his lifestyle.  The real estate agent lives in a mansion and has a mistress.  He also has no conscience.

Cinematographer Bobby Bukowski gives the viewer an unflinching look at the proceedings and Bahrani edits the scenes to allow the same uncomfortable experience to flow throughout the film.  The sound is a perfect blend of background ambiance; empty houses sound empty as does the dialogue taking place in them.

While the film is a “vehicle” for Garfield (who does turn in an impressively underplayed  performance full of angst, it is Shannon who shines as the man who angrily blames the banks, home owners and the economy for his success.  The real estate agent who is making a killing from the frailties of the economy professes discomfort at his success but the man, as they say, “doeth protest too much.”

99 Homes proves that Ramin Bahrani is the new voice of middle America or the blue collar worker’s chronicler as a new generational version of “The Grapes of Wrath,” a’la James Michener via the medium of film.

This is a 5 out of  5 stars vehicle for all concerned. Entertainment based upon not just the human condition but the societal ills that affect it.  99 Homes is a powerful film that disturbs and should be a movie that makes the audience talk about the very real issues behind this tale of greed and loss.

America the Troubled

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It’s been a very violent and bloody week for this country. First a bloody ending to a national runners event that marred the day by killing and injuring innocent people taking part in the Boston Marathon and Patriot day.

That all occurred on the 15th of April this year.

Two days later, a fertiliser plant in the farming town of West, Texas exploded, killing 14 and the police are still sifting through the rubble to find casualties.

On the 18th of April, the first of two bombing suspects was shot and killed in a prolonged shoot-out with police.

Yesterday on the  19th of April, the second suspect was shot and captured.

America has had a very troubled and busy week in the violence and death department. The denizens of this troubled country can be forgiven for feeling a little abused at the moment.

I wrote a blog post on the day of the Boston Marathon bombings and raised the query of security forces spending too much time looking for evil within the borders of the USA. I felt that they were looking in the wrong place for terrorists.

I was wrong.

Sadly, this terror attack did indeed come from within.

But…

These two heinous and cowardly individuals did not originate in America. They were “immigrants” who came over with their families. According to initial reports, they’ve only lived in America for ten years.

Both, according to the news again, were recent Muslim converts.

The face of monsters.
The faces of monsters.

Oh boy. That’s going to rock the proverbial boat. As if Muslims did not have enough negative press already, they now have even more and I can imagine that Mr and Mrs America and their children won’t be inviting their next door followers of Islam over for a barbecue.

Another unsettling reason for the non-Muslim community to feel leery about this “foreign” religion and its violent outbursts against “the infidels.”

Overshadowed by Monday’s events is the explosion in Texas that took so many lives. Not – as far as I know – terrorist in nature, it is still an enormous tragedy and one that isn’t getting a lot of  media attention due to the Boston tragedy; at least not on this side of the big pond.

West Texas. Fires after the explosion.
West Texas. Fires after the explosion.

On top of the two explosive events, we have the news that guardians of justice move damned fast. Literally within days of the Boston outrage, both suspects have been dealt with. Of course the death of one and the injuring of the other, may make it difficult to find out why  these two monsters – Yes, monsters.  People do not indiscriminately murder in this fashion. – with the end result being one dead and one captured.

Suffice to say, I think I was wrong to denigrate the security forces and their head offices for watching the American people. It seems that what appeared to me as paranoia, was not.

Now it only remains for the authorities to find out why. Why killing innocent children and people was necessary and why the fertiliser plant exploded in Texas.

I cannot think of a more troubling week of events for America within her shores before. Certainly not that I can remember. Sure we’ve had international American tragedy before. Remember Jonestown? But that was outside the boundaries of the country and not on Main Street USA.

On Jonestown, I had a friend in the USAF who was at the New Jersey air base when the bodies were brought back. He was on body-bag detail. I cannot imagine the horror that must have been.

I close this puzzled post with prayers sent to all who have suffered loss in this last week. Loss of life, loss of family, friends and neighbours and loss of innocence. I also pray that we might find out that the horrid events of Boston were a “one-off” and that other recent converts to the Muslim religion who are US citizens aren’t so murderously inclined.

May the country of my birth breathe a sigh of relief now that the week-end has arrived and may my fellow countrymen rest a bit easier knowing that the keepers of the peace do seem to know what they are doing.

To the residents of both Boston and Texas I hope you can get closure for this violent and troubled week. And my the American people not be so scarred that they become xenophobic in action and thought.

And lastly, may the greatest free country in the world continue to be so and fly the flag proudly and safely.

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