99 Homes asks what you'd overlook at the end of your rope, how much of your humanity and morality you'd be willing to ignore in order to not only survive, but thrive after experiencing the most humiliating descent to poverty. It's 2008 at the heights of America's housing crisis and Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield), his son Connor (Noah Lomax) and mother Lynn (Laura Dern) are evicted from their family home. Rick Carver (Michael Shannon) is the bank's representative at the eviction and sees potential in Nash to exploit.
Bahrani and co writers Amir Naderi and Bahareh Azimi want us to grapple with what's left of your morality when you're living from one hour to the next. It's almost unconscionable and yet it's an all too common experience in huge swathes of the United States. Bahrani whips you into a frenzy of progressively escalating exchanges throughout the film. You have to experience the futility of court proceedings, being displaced from your home, the desolation and vacation of industry as huge chunks of your population exiled in the face of the grotesque banking practices. The production design of the homes is impeccable; the hand held camerawork closes the distance between the characters. Bahrani wants you close enough to see the mess these practices leave behind.
Bahrani, Naderi and Azimi do a wonderful job of crafting purposefully ineloquent dialogue that chart all the stages of grief. No ethic background or age bracket goes unturned. Nash's new job comes back to his temporary motel home it hits a fever pitch. One of the families that he's evicted, turn up to the motel as their last port of call. The red headed, bear of a man recognises and attacks Nash; berating him for capitalising on the misfortune of others. It's in these moments that you see that no matter how you attempt to spin, adjust or reframe that the 'juice is worth the squeeze,' it comes at a price.
Bahrani, Naderi and Azimi also show that the vacuum of legitimate industry, prevalent in the pre-Regan *get spelling* economy is filled by a capitalist cannabilism, whereby the people who are making the money are doing so by suffocating the people around them.
Andrew Garfield is dreadfully miscast in this film. It does not reflect in his passion and commitment for the project; delivering his most sincere, sombre and emotionally traumatised character yet; however right off of the back you're required to believe that this baby-faced young man is a thirty year old roofer, living at home with his mother and an eight year old son. It just does not aesthetically compute. Michael Shannon on the other hand, playing the apathetic Real Estate Broker Rick Carver, postures a practiced apathy ideal for displacing hundreds of families in foreclosures with the same casual manner of changing socks. Shannon gets cozy with Carver; show the depths of his exploitation and the belief with which he continues his cause. Laura Dern’s Lynn doesn’t want to believe what her son is doing and is in a state if denial that doesn’t last. Dern convey’s Lynn as a complex woman, in an opaque mother and son relationship, that puts a lot of value on the family home.
99 Homes brings an unbearable subject, excruciatingly close; Bahrani makes you feel powerless to the machinations of the greedy, perhaps that's the point.
Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Directed by: Ramin Bahrani
Written by: Ramin Bahrani (story/writer) and Amir Naderi(writer) & Bahareh Azimi (story)
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Laura Dern, Michael Shannon,Tim Guinee, J.D. Evermore, Noah Lomax
By no fault of the filmmakers, nor the Sydney Film Festival, where I viewed this film, a person had a seizure in the middle of the screening and in the middle of this particularly intense moment a piece of real life intensity dwarfed the happenings in the film. After a break for medical attention for the unfortunate individual and the film being slightly rewound to a moment or two before the incident occurred we dived back into proceedings. However, I'd have to say that it most certainly, had an impact on how I received the film.
Blake Howard is a writer, a podcaster, the editor-in-chief & co-founder of Australian film blog Graffiti With Punctuation. Beginning his criticism APPRENTICESHIP as co-host of That Movie Show 2UE, Blake is now a member of the prestigious Online Film Critic Society, sways the Tomato Meter with Rotten Tomatoes approved reviews. See his articulated words and shrieks (mostly) here at Graffitiwithpunctuation.com and with DarkHorizons.com & 2SER Sydney weekly on Gaggle of Geeks.