Written and Directed by: Ramin Bahrani
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Laura Dern, Michael Shannon and Clancy Brown
It’s pretty rare that I am caught completely off guard by a movie, but 99 Homes quite frankly blew me away. I didn’t know anything about the movie prior to the screening, and I went in with no expectations. The opening sequence tore my heart out, and waterworks ensued. I never quit crying for the rest of the movie.
Andrew Garfield plays Dennis, a down on his luck construction worker who falls behind on the mortgage payments for his home. Dennis is shell-shocked when a realtor (Rick, played by Michael Shannon) arrives with police in tow to inform him that the bank now owns his house. His family has mere moments to remove whatever necessities they can from the property before they are forcefully evicted.
Dennis, his son (Noah Lomax) and his mom (Laura Dern) are confused and horrified as neighbors convene on their lawns and watch the spectacle unfold. With the meager belongings they salvaged the family moves into a motel largely occupied by families in the same predicament.
Dennis is desperate to earn his home back, but construction jobs are hard to come by. He gets offered a job with Rick, the very man who evicted him. Rick initially wants him to help clean up foreclosed homes, but soon has Dennis serving eviction notices to working class types, and shares a tidy profit with him. It’s a classic scenario of someone making a deal with the devil and finding themselves morally conflicted. Garfield has an innate vulnerability that lends itself well to the role. His conundrum is the focus of the film.
99 Homes is a minimalist film, driven wholly by a superb narrative and excellent acting. It has a gritty element that almost feels like a documentary. The story wisely focuses on the struggles that low and middle class families faced after the housing bubble burst. There are some interesting revelations about the amount of corruption surrounding the Fannie Mae lending fiascos and the magnitude of government waste. Shady real estate types quickly learned how to capitalize on the loopholes and oversights and made millions while the average Joes lost everything.
There were a lot of pseudo-riche types who lost McMansions during the housing downturn, but I’m glad this story concentrated on the everyday people. They are more sympathetic, and ultimately serve the story better.
Shannon has proved himself reliable in intense roles. He doesn’t disappoint here. He’s despicable and greedy, not caring about the lives he destroys on a daily basis. The only time he conveys any emotion is when he confesses he is constantly looking over his shoulder, fully aware that the people he evicts can be loose cannons. They have nothing left to lose.
I’m not familiar with director Ramin Bahrani’s previous works, but he directed, wrote, produced and edited 99 Homes, and he’s definitely one talent to watch. – Shannon