The recession and subsequent housing crisis is the biggest financial disaster in recent memory, so it’s shocking that it has taken this long for a great movie to be made about it. Leave it to the thinking-man’s filmmaker, writer-director Ramin Bahrini (CHOP SHOP), to bring this story to life in 99 HOMES. With a strong, timely script and incredible performances from Andrew Garfield, Laura Dern, and Michael Shannon, 99 HOMES puts a face to the housing disaster. If you don’t personally know a family who has been evicted from their homes, this film ensures that it is not out of sight, out of mind any more.
From the very first shot of the film, it’s easy to tell that this isn’t going to be a dry story about the effects of the housing crisis on middle to lower class Americans. 99 HOMES is a thriller through and through. And not only that, it makes you ask yourself big, morality-based questions. What ethical lines will you cross to keep a roof over your family’s heads?
Rick Carver (Michael Shannon) is who some may see as a bottom feeder. However, he sees himself as an opportunist, leveraging his experience as a real-estate broker to carry out evictions on behalf of the bank. He is the guy that does the dirty work, accompanying police to a foreclosed house to evict its inhabitants. While the recession made millions of homeowners go into foreclosure, Carver turned their misfortunes into a lucrative business.
Carver’s busy eviction schedule leads him to Dennis Nash (Garfield), his mother Lynn (Dern) and Dennis’ young son, who are being evicted from their family home. In a circular turn of events, Dennis’ job is building homes, so since the bank is no longer giving as many loans for new houses, he has no job and no income. Due to quite a few missed mortgage payments, the bank sends Carver to evict, and the Nash family is forced to move to a motel, which is almost at full occupancy with other families like them.
When Dennis believes a member of Carver’s team stole his tools, he goes to confront the individual and encounters Carver again. At that same time, a maintenance call comes in regarding one of the foreclosed houses. Due to the disgusting nature of the project, no one on Carver’s team wants to do the work, so Dennis steps up for the extra cash. Dennis’ initiative and hardworking attitude impresses Carver and he quickly offers him a position on the team. Because Carver is so hated in the community at the motel (and within his own family), Dennis keeps his job a secret. However, that can’t last long. Dennis’ work ethic helps him quickly rise through the ranks of the company and soon he is Carver’s right hand man (and fellow evictor), earning more money than he ever has before. With a few months of saving, Dennis will be able to buy his house back. But where does he draw the line? Should he choose money over his own morals? And what will happen when his family starts asking more questions about where all of his money is coming from?
Has Michael Shannon ever been anything but magnificent in a movie? Answer: No. As scary (and sometimes despicable) as many of his characters are, his magnetism makes them captivating. When Shannon is in a scene, it’s hard to take your eyes off of him. He has such an unpredictable quality in his acting, it’s always a wonder what he will do next. In fact, thanks to Shannon’s multi-layered performance and Rahmin’s intelligent script, even in some of the most cut-throat situations, Carver came out more as an opportunist than a villain. Rahmin makes it almost easy to understand Carver’s motivations. Why not make money off of this? If it’s not him, it’ll be someone else.
Andrew Garfield is the heart of the film, giving one of the most heartbreaking performances of his career. The entire film rests on his shoulders and he is able to go toe to toe with Shannon in the film’s most pivotal scenes. Garfield’s ability to show strength, vulnerability, and emotion is the anchor to the film. His character was a mirror to my own feelings throughout every scene, especially the gut-wrenching foreclosures. Dern also excels at playing the loving, understanding mother, a role we have seen from her frequently over the past year. Thankfully 99 HOMES gives Dern a little more to do than WILD and THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, and I will never complain about that.
99 HOMES is easily one of the best films I have seen at Sundance so far and had me enthralled from the very first shot. Like A MOST VIOLENT YEAR did for the heating oil industry, 99 HOMES shows just how political and cut-throat the foreclosure real estate game can be. And hopefully, it will make us all more aware of what is going on right underneath our noses. I know it did for me.
My Review: B+/A-