99 Homes is a potent morality play, both exposing the criminality behind the housing collapse of the mid-2000’s and the lengths to which one man will go to provide for his family. It extracts just the right amount of anger about an issue for which everyone should be angry while standing on its own as a suspenseful, well-acted picture. The film also gives us one of the most cunning and ruthless villains in quite some time.
Andrew Garfield stars as Dennis Nash, a construction worker struggling to find a consistently paying gig. He lives with his nine-year-old son, Connor (Lomax), and mother, Lynn (Dern), and warnings from the bank about their mortgage are starting to roll in. Time runs out and Dennis finds he and his family evicted by real estate broker Rick Carver (Shannon), a gun-toting, no-nonsense opportunist ready to capitalize on your worst day. After moving into a shady hotel and still desperate for work, Dennis finds himself employed by Carver. As he falls deeper under Carver’s spell and into the corrupt world of scamming and stealing from banks and the government, not to mention being tasked with evicting others, Dennis’s conscience begins to take over. Is his suddenly better lifestyle at the expense of others’ well-being worth it?
Writer/director Ramin Bahrani specializes in moral conflict, and 99 Homes provides plenty to chew on. The housing crisis is still a ripe topic for storytelling, mainly because of the sheer amount of joint criminality involved with the banks, realty, and Wall Street. Bahrani embodies that criminality in Carver’s character, constantly issuing the warning that the only way to get ahead any more is by gaming the system and removing any semblance of empathy for fellow humans in the process. He’s the Gordon Gekko of the housing industry, seeing everything in economic terms and opportunity cost. Nash’s moral descent to Carver’s level seems a little too clean, with his willingness to commit obvious crimes not coming into question immediately.
Garfield is stellar as the lead. Given one of the meatier and more dynamic roles of his career, he displays impressive range as the everyman just looking to get by. It’s Michael Shannon, however, who steals every scene he’s in. Square-jawed and always deadly serious, Shannon exemplifies exactly the person you don’t want knocking on your door. An extensive “haves/have nots” monologue he delivers is chilling not only because of his bluntness, but because it feels so heartbreakingly true. Shannon turns in one of 2015’s best performances. Laura Dern and young Noah Lomax turn in fine supporting work and counteract Dennis’s gradual moral bankruptcy well.
99 Homes is a timely topical drama that packs real punch the deeper it goes into the rabbit hole of lawless capitalization on destroyed lives. It’s anger-inducing and Bahrani doesn’t offer any easy answers, perhaps because there aren’t any. The film is, at its core, an indictment of a society that has learned nothing from the crisis and remains just as at risk as it was ten years ago. Well-written, executed, and featuring a diabolical performance from Michael Shannon, 99 Homes is an appropriately enraging gut punch of a watch.
Studio: Broad Green Pictures
Length: 112 Minutes
Rating: R for language including some sexual references, and a brief violent image.
Theatrical Release: January 23, 2015 (Sundance Film Festival) / October 9, 2015 (Limited)
Directed by: Ramin Bahrani
Written by: Ramin Bahrani & Amir Naderi & Bahareh Azimi.
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Michael Shannon, Laura Dern, Noah Lomax, Tim Guinee