99 Homes (2014) / Drama

MPAA Rated: R for language including some sexual references, and a brief violent image
Running Time: 112 min.

Cast: Andrew Garfield, Michael Shannon, Laura Dern, Noah Lomax, Tim Guinee, Clancy Brown
Director: Ramin Bahrani

Screenplay: Ramin Bahrani, Amir Naderi
Review published October 11, 2015

Set in 2010, Michael Shannon (They Came Together, Man of Steel) plays an opportunistic Orlando-based real estate agent named Richard 'Rick' Carver, who has gone from getting people into homes through sales to getting people out of homes through evictions, and he's making a heck of a lot more money doing the latter.  When homeowners default on their mortgages, Carver metaphorically circles the property like a hungry vulture, waiting for the tenants to use up every last resource before he forces them to vacate on behalf of the bank.  Carver's next mark is Dennis Nash (Garfield, The Amazing Spider-Man 2), a construction worker who has been struggling mightily financially when home building project funding has dried up.

 Despite every effort to save his home, Carver comes in like the Grim Reaper to bring reality to the situation, and soon Nash is forced into living in a dingy motel with his mother (Dern, Wild) and young son (Lomax, Safe Haven) on the hope that he can find a way to legally get his home back.  However, a silver lining forms when Carver is in need of someone who can do manual labor, offering Nash cash for doing a good deal of the grunt work of fixing and cleaning up foreclosed homes.  Nash doesn't like it, but he needs the money, and hopes he can earn enough to get back his family home, but his conscience is troubled that he's doing it with money gained from the eviction of good families down on their luck, very much like his own.

99 Homes is a film written and directed by Ramin Bahrani (Goodbye Solo, Man Push Cart) that comments on the events following the collapse that occurred after the housing crisis took place in the United States that saw many families evicted from their homes.  Bahrani showcases the greed involved in the real estate deals that leave homeowners taking the big losses, while banks and foreclosure agencies reap big financial rewards, with the deck firmly stacked in favor of bailing out the wealthy over the needy in desperate times.  And Carver is a particularly shady operator, finding loopholes in the law that allows him to gain more money from the government by making them pay to replace missing appliances that he has removed surreptitiously.  Not to mention that the law enforcement agencies are more willing to help out those with money than they are those who are so destitute that they're about to lose their homes.

Bolstered by a very good cast, with solid performers extending from the leads right down to the child actors.  Garfield is a stand-out as Nash, giving a performance that is worthy of Oscar consideration, having to keep us on his side, knowing he has a conscience about his actions, and yet his desire to please his family and continue to pay for the basic necessities in their lives drives him to continue, even in the face of seeing so many other families go down in despair.  Shannon steals the thunder away from Garfield a bit by going mostly emotion-less in his rationalization of his own actions, putting moral and sentimental values aside to see his role as just being an agent of the law, and those who find themselves on the outs are irresponsible because they put themselves in their dire position to begin with.  It's a fascinating performance -- never showy, but still quite commanding.

Though the movie retains an intelligence and good grip on viewer attention, Bahrani's film does deflate a bit with an ostentatious climax that goes for overreaching melodrama in which guns come into play.  When the film is busy showing us how the laws meant to protect the public are now being used to screw the public, 99 Homes is erudite and fascinating.  When the film is about the specific individual characters, it's still interesting, but it takes the focus away for a spell on the thematic material, even if it seeks to expose how immoral the propagators of foreclosures-for-profit have to be in order to maintain their businesses in the face of daily suffering for many families in their broken communities.

99 Homes is a topical drama, but an important one, spotlighting a subject that would traditionally not lend well to making for a gripping movie.  Bahrani smartly doesn't go into the nuts and bolts of how the process of real estate loans and subsequent foreclosures work, concentrating more on what the end result does to families and communities, while those who are raking in the cash are busy earning so much money, they can pay off their troubled consciences.  it's not only a fascinating look at a world we rarely get to see, but also a very relevant and thought-provoking one as well.

Qwipster's rating:

2015 Vince Leo