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.
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