Rough Reality: A Review of ’99 Homes’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - October 09, 2015
Rough Reality: A Review of ’99 Homes’

The power of having a building that you call “home” can create some rather powerful and often deceptive emotions.  99 Homes takes us into the dark realm of the housing slide in southern Florida and the often “grey” realities of owning a home during an economic slide.

Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield) is a struggling single dad, trying to keep a roof over the head of both his mother (Laura Dern) and his son (Noah Lomax), but the work is drying up and his behind on his house payments, about to get foreclosed on.  Enter Rick Carver (Michael Shannon), a charismatic but ruthless real estate shark who is making a killing by repossessing homes while simultaneously taking advantage of the weak market, the flailing banks and the government who is bailing out banks whose business practices have been less than ideal.  Nash ends up going to work for Carver even after he repossessed his house with the hopes of gaining a measure of security for his family but it comes with a dark side.  A cold lifestyle of money and glamour begins to seep in and the further Nash gets into the business the more he begins to hate what he has become and what it can take to get ahead in a collapsing market as he learns that being financially bankrupt is nowhere near as bad as the moral bankruptcy that takes place at the expense of others in a crippling flawed economic system.

Admittedly not a perfect cinematic experience, it actually isn’t supposed to be as 99 Homes plays in the shades of grey that make characters human and horrible all at the same time thanks to a couple of very strong leading man performances that help us to forget about some of the other parts that are just a little underdeveloped.99-homes

Writer/Director Ramin Bahrani gives a grim yet seemingly authentic slice of life where the only clear cut bad guy is the ineptitude of the system that surrounds these people.  In a world where everyone is underwater, you need to be on a big ass boat in order to not get dragged down as Bahrani for the most part is successful is visualizing the income gap that part of the reason that so many of these people are being forced out of these homes.  The other is pride, which while admirable can also be misguided as people put way too much value on to the plaster, wood, brick and concrete that we call home and it serves as a reminder that home is where you hang your hat.  It’s shot exceptionally well and while the script has some narrative and logic gaps in it, we are ultimately brought down to the morality of it all as we see desperate people have to make decisions on what they’ll do to get ahead and even more importantly stay in ahead in the rat race of life which can often be quite cruel.  Bahrani avoids any faux melodrama and keeps us engaged in the moment as we get to sympathize and feel disgusted by every side of this complex issue and it seems only fitting that a man who played both a super hero and a super villain could bring this topic to life.

Michael Shannon in many ways seems to be operating on a different level from most other actors in the game.  As he introduces us to Rick Carver we get a portrait of a man who should be this villainous letch of a human being who is taking pleasure in destroying these people’s lives but as the movie evolves so does he and we see yet another desperate person who will do whatever it takes to stay ahead of the curve.  Shannon brings a manic desperation to the role while still maintaining some genuine empathy in the character that we are supposed to hate.  On the other side of the coin, Andrew Garfield’s Rick Carver is a man on the brink and holding on to the value of “home” perhaps a little more then he should not realizing what sacrifices that he has had to make to protect his loved ones until it is too late.  These two men are dueling back and forth throughout the film and it is quite often a marvel to watch.  Sadly after these two, the cast is woefully underdeveloped and it might have been nice to see a little more complexity in these supporting players.

At the end of the day, 99 Homes is the kind of movie that deserves an incredibly strong audience, because it tells a complex and worthwhile story.  You’d just better be ready as much like in life, it won’t necessarily give us answer that we are satisfied with.  Its quality entertainment with some genuine moments of verite that is hard to watch.

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David Voigt is a Toronto based writer with a problem and a passion for the moving image and all things cinema. Having moved from production to the critical side of the aisle for well over 10 years now at outlets like Examiner.com, Criticize This, Dork Shelf (Now That Shelf), to.Night Newspaper he’s been all across his city, the country and the continent in search of all the news and reviews that are fit to print from the world of cinema.
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