2015, R, 112 min. Directed by Ramin Bahrani. Starring Andrew Garfield, Michael Shannon, Laura Dern, Clancy Brown, Tim Guinee, Nicole Barré, Yvonne Landry, Noah Lomax, J.D. Evermore.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Oct. 9, 2015
A filmic condemnation of the victors and an empathetic nod to the losers in the subprime mortgage crisis of 2007-09, 99 Homes has enough dramatic moments of boo/hiss outrage to stir up audiences, but it’s unfortunately not the sort of film that’s likely to generate lines around the block. That’s too bad, because the predatory lending schemes and the resulting toxic assets that nearly destroyed not only the American but the global economy have yet to be dismantled. The people may be mad as hell, but they’re still taking it.
Director and co-writer Bahrani (Man Push Cart, Goodbye Solo) wisely winnows down the story’s potentially epic scope to focus on two men. The first is Rick Carver (Shannon), an Orlando real estate broker who’s moved from selling homes to evicting behind-payment owners. Sleek, tall, and 100% in control of an otherwise out-of-control system, Carver, with the aid of the local sheriffs and backlogged courts, flips the properties for profit after his wrecking crew does a little creative dismantling. He’s a Machiavellian sort with a minor, if telling, character arc that mostly places him in permanent Snidely Whiplash territory. Shannon is perfectly reptilian in the role.
On the other side of the financial fence, where the grass is always deader, is Dennis Nash (Garfield), the laid-off construction worker who Carver first evicts from his ancestral homestead and then hires as the new boss of his illegal deconstruction crew. Nash, a sturdy, working-class-hero type, comes with the requisite mom (Dern) and young son (Lomax) and enough initial frustration with the whole systemic collapse to engender viewers’ sympathies. Forced to move his family into a grotty motel, Nash faces an unenviable choice: sink into despair or work for the very man he loathes most in the world. It’s no contest in the sink-or-swim awfulness of the Great Recession.
I wish I could say 99 Homes delivers a shockingly good sucker punch to the American electorate and a stand-up-and-cheer piece of socially conscious filmmaking, but it’s not. It lacks the satisfactory denouement of, for instance, Michael Mann’s The Insider (and Garfield is no Russell Crowe), in part because the events it depicts are still happening across the country (albeit to a lesser extent). But more than that, there’s a certain predictability inherent in the writing that telegraphs far in advance how Carver and Nash’s otherwise unthinkable alliance will turn out. Like the jerry-rigged patchwork of faux fixes that got us into this mess in the first place, it feels like another case of too little, too late.