Overview: A single father fighting for his family’s home during the real estate crash of 2008 finds work with a real estate agent specializing in evictions. Broad Green Pictures; 2015; Rated R; 112 Minutes.
Powerful Performances: Michael Shannon is fantastic as the evil-genius, cold, calculating, and towering over his subjects, but Andrew Garfield does not a desperate father make. Until around halfway through the movie when something clicks and suddenly, Garfield, still reeling from quasi-roles as a teenager, does. It is his most mature performance to date. Garfield plays Dennis Nash, a single father living with his mother. He works in construction, but has a hard time finding work after his childhood home is evicted. Enter Shannon as Rick Carver, former real estate mogul turned executioner of evictions, who offers Nash a chance to reclaim both his home, and his and his family’s future.
Two Forms of Corruption: So starts the film, a hyper-realistic, until it becomes a slight melodrama near the finale, examination on desperation, and the amount of a person’s soul they are willing to sacrifice in order to do right by those they are closest to. Through Nash’s foray into the sleazy world of real estate and house flipping with his seemingly morally exempt boss, we witness this degenerative transformation on a modern, every-man. Nash is a hard worker. He has the drive and the discipline to go far in the world, but is unable to without breaking a few laws. The film features a strong indictment on the United States government – one that dances behind a fine line of preachiness but never crosses it. Rather, the film stays rather grounded – focusing on the very raw human emotions going through each of the character’s heads. By the end, it is hard to vilify Carver, who takes homes away from those most in need. He is but another victim of society. 99 Homes is substantial social commentary, and perhaps the titular amount of homes is a reference to that movement for equity that further adds to the political awareness that emanates from the film as a whole.
Overarching Realism: In fact, it is this overarching realism that makes the film’s dramatics so thrilling. By subverting audience beliefs with dialogue that actually sounds like it could come out of people’s mouths, 99 Homes captivates. In an early scene in the film, when Nash and his mother are first evicted, they are given two minutes to pack up their necessities. Cue a slightly comical scene of them in hysterics, bouncing around the house, screaming for random objects that are obviously not necessities. The mother saves a plant, a toaster. Nash heads straight to his son’s room to save his toys. It is only when the hysterics does not end that you realize what this and every other family in this situation is feeling – a sense of viscera where something unimaginable is happening to a family and we are made to understand it. Here they are vulnerable; how do they correctly react? Even the children here act like children would – in one scene Nash’s son tries to touch the ceiling while they are walking. It is a subtle habit, and such a small detail. But it is also one that, by getting correct, Bahrani is able to use to inject so much much more authenticity into his script.
Overall: Both actors and a strong sense of reality are at the core of director Ramin Bahrani’s political drama, about the real estate crash of 2010; it is a bit late but welcome nonetheless, packing an emotional punch that resonates with relevance the same way 2009’s Up In The Air was able to.