Sadly this film by Ramin Bahrani received a limited release at the box office, despite plenty of very good reviews, though I suspect it’ll find a wider audience once it is available to watch at home. It’s powered by two very good lead performances: Michael Shannon plays a hardened, greedy real estate operator named Rick Carver, a kind of Gordon Gekko for the foreclosure generation who exhibits no sympathy for the Florida families that he evicts after they default on mortgage payments; opposite him is Andrew Garfield as Dennis Nash, an unemployed contractor who is first turfed out of his own home by Carver before later taking a job opportunity with the same man’s firm. Under Carver’s tutelage Nash quickly progresses from handyman to right-hand-man, and is informed of the steps he must take if he is to emulate the boss and become a financial success. This involves forging legal documents and forcing other people out of their homes, among other activities; this way lies the American Dream, represented here in the form of condos and large mansions that can be snapped up cheaply and sold on for big profits.
99 Homes still feels timely and relevant, even though the worst period in terms of people defaulting on their loans during the sub-prime mortgage crisis was around five or six years ago. We repeatedly see Carver evicting families and homeowners of various ages, aided by police officers (in case things get a little shooty) and a team of workmen who wait in the background like a pack of vultures. People are unceremoniously dumped onto the pavement, having been given two minutes in order to collect key possessions, and are told to find accommodation elsewhere. All the while the impassive, repulsive Carver stands watch, barely able to hide his contempt for the defaulters and running through a number of well-rehearsed lines while dollar signs flash in his eyes. In courtroom scenes we see judges making their way through a backlog of hearings, with homeowners given as little as one minute of the court’s time in which they are able to state their cases. Single father Nash is one of them, unsuccessfully pleading for a stay of grace in the family home with his son Connor (Noah Lomax) in tow. It’s extremely depressing to watch, and highly emotive material.
Along with his mother Lynn (Laura Dern) and son, Nash is forced to take up temporary accommodation in a cramped and noisy motel. Carver shows him a way out, but in order to make enough money to find a permanent home for his family Garfield’s character must begin evicting people himself, despite knowing exactly how it feels to be made homeless. This drives the narrative for a considerable portion of the film’s 110-minute running time: will Nash become the same kind of man as his real estate guru, or will the experience of being made homeless allow him to empathise with people in similar situations and retain a moral compass? I won’t give away the answer; suffice it to say Bahrani, who co-wrote with Iranian director Amir Naderi, provides a damning assessment of those who exploit the misfortune of others for their own good or who are corrupt in some way or other, while also highlighting the many moral and legal grey areas that can be found within modern property law. I hope more people see this drama, particularly as the acting is of a high standard.
Directed by: Ramin Bahrani.
Written by: Ramin Bahrani, Amir Naderi.
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Michael Shannon, Laura Dern, Noah Lomax.
Cinematography: Bobby Bukowski.
Editing: Ramin Bahrani.
Music: Antony Partos, Matteo Zingales.
Running Time: 110 minutes.