99 Homes (2015)
99 Homes (2015)

Genre: Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 52 min.

Release Date: October 9th, 2015 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Ramin Bahrani Actors: Andrew Garfield, Michael Shannon, Laura Dern, Noah Lomax, Jordyn McDempsey, Tim Guinee, Nicole Barre

 


 

P

atrick Cadwell, at the end of his rope with mortgage problems, takes his own life. At the scene of the tragedy, despite blood splattered on the walls of the bathroom, real estate mogul Rick Carver (Michael Shannon) can only think about other contracts to be negotiated and houses to flip. Remorseless and unfeeling, he certainly can’t be bothered with guilt or compassion or the aftermath of a frustrated tenant. In fact, his only concern is the cost of cleaning up the premises.

Meanwhile, single father and unemployed construction worker Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield) is about to face his own eviction. Having received conflicting, bad advice from lenders and dry spells in his profession, he’s served papers to vacate the home he’s lived in all his life. And with him are his mother Lynn (Laura Dern) and his young son Connor (Noah Lomax). After appearing before a judge to explain his situation, and desperately searching for competent legal representation (willing to work pro bono), the foreclosure is still unavoidable. On the day of his eviction, supervised in person by Carver and a duo of coarse sheriff’s officers, Nash is given approximately two minutes to pack up his most important items and leave.

In the most contrived of scenarios, Dennis winds up accepting a job from Carver himself when the brisk businessman requires an expeditious clean up at a home whose former owners purposely backed up the sewage system before hitting the road. The $200 offer to shovel human waste off the flooring can’t be ignored, especially as Dennis wishes to hasten the process of moving out of the shabby hotel room his mother and son now occupy. Soon, however, the naïve handyman finds his position reversed, as he’s instructed to serve the same hardhearted evictions upon others as was done to his own family.

While the introductory eviction is shocking, hectic, and emotional, the audience wasn’t privy to the paperwork, the notifications, or prior court proceedings – specifically to boost the sense of immediacy – which prevents Dennis from being entirely sympathetic. It’s very much a one-sided presentation. Plus, the addition of an ignorant mother and an uninformed child isn’t given screentime to be appropriately affective. Through plenty of reiteration (including montages of fellow homeowners forcibly losing their properties), the film sensationalizes and exaggerates the circumstances and interactions to portray the greatest amount of drama. Nevertheless, the subject matter’s resonance will depend largely on individual viewers’ closeness to comparable situations.

The setup is hugely implausible, not because of the specific actions but because of the character development. As a millionaire capitalist, Carver would certainly never employ a man with such a high level of contempt and untrustworthiness. And Nash would definitely never accept a job from Carver for any price (let alone the $50 he quickly takes) – out of spite, out of basic pride, and especially after Carver insists that his employees must serve him like slaves. At least, Shannon is superb at being contemptible and intense, tossing about vein-popping speeches that attempt to justify his ferocious, immoral, and regularly illegal approach to making money.

The standard concept of contrasts starts out with purpose (though the editing occasionally bespeaks of amateurishness) before giving way to repetition and manipulation. It’s admirable to cinematically depict the rich vs. the poor, the high class and its moral corruptions vs. the low class and its embroilment in impulsive violence, and white-collar moneymakers vs. blue-collar laborers – but the permeating adherence to fraudulence rapidly degrades the prominent statements about these notions. Protagonist and antagonist become indistinguishable when both sides are motivated solely by money. “How do you live with yourself?” cries a woman thrown off her property by Nash, despite his relatively soft approach. In the end, “99 Homes” is reminiscent of “The Wolf of Wall Street,” but without all the drugs and girls and fun.

– Mike Massie

  • 5/10