99 Homes

Posted by Joel Copling on October 9, 2015

The crux of "99 Homes" surrounds two scenes, depicting very similar circumstances but played at different pitches and points in our protagonist's story. Both involve our hero, who represents in the screenplay by Amir Naderi and director Ramin Bahrani the Everyman home owner directly affected by the economic recession of 2008, and villain, who represents the big banks responsible for causing that recession. It's an unsubtle allegory for a specific time in the country's recovery from the recession, and therein lies what Bahrani and Naderi are going for. I've always strongly believed that sometimes a heavy hand is necessary, and here's proof of my theory.

The antagonist is one of those individuals who walks and talks like he's calm, collected, and confident without realizing he's actually cold and calculating, even after we get a sense of the man's motivation. How we are introduced to Rick Carver (Michael Shannon) tells us everything we really need to know about him, and any attempt to soften him up before a final scene that gives him his righteous comeuppance doesn't do away with the opening act. The patriarch of a family Rick was going to evict from their house has shot himself in the head, rather than giving up his living conditions. Rick looks on coldly, treating this as a more significant inconvenience for himself than the family who look on in horror, having lost their father, husband, and home in one stroke. This is a man who gets off on the suffering of others under the guise of not being "emotional" about real estate, as he explains to our protagonist.

Of course, that's after Rick evicts Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield) and his mother and son (Laura Dern and Noah Lomax) from their home, forcing them to live in a motel that sees many people doing the same, and hires Dennis to help him evict others from their homes. Dennis first is a construction worker for Rick, doing odd jobs (such as one involving overflowing sewage and another involving a family friend to Dennis who has been using his neighbor's electricity and water for his own benefit) for cash. The oddest thing about this shift in the film's dynamic is that Dennis discovers he's quite good at this job. Eventually, Dennis learns the ropes of being what Rick calls the type of "winner" America was rigged to benefit by cheating home owners out of their living conditions for sometimes pretty flimsy, classist reasons (Of course, we know it's mostly because flipping houses for profit is about the profit, full-stop).

It's a snake-oil business, and Rick is the businessman who operates within it. It's also a way to get windfalls of money in one go, something for which he is desperate right now. And if getting money by doing something you love really well is the American Dream, what's a few other crushed ones in the big picture? A montage in the back end of the film's second act that shows how adept Dennis is at mocking Rick's style is some of the most incendiary stuff you'll see in a movie all year. The aforementioned climax narrows its focus both in terms of narrative (coming to rest on a single example of eviction that almost goes terribly awry) and allegory (seeing a simple acknowledgment of the system's rigging as an apology for it--a naive idea that nevertheless gets the point across) and cements "99 Homes" as a tough but crucial watch.

Film Information

Andrew Garfield (Dennis Nash), Michael Shannon (Rick Carver), Laura Dern (Lynn Nash), Noah Lomax (Connor Nash), Clancy Brown (Mr. Freeman), Tim Guinee (Frank Green), J.D. Evermore (Mr. Tanner).

Directed by Ramin Bahrani and written by Bahrani and Amir Naderi.

Rated R (language including sexual references, a brief violent image).

112 minutes.

Released in select cities on September 25, 2015.