Sundance 2015: ’99 Homes’ an outstanding, involving tête-à-tête on American morality

Director Ramin Bahrani (Man Push Cart, Goodbye Solo) constructs 99 Homes as a dismal assessment of desperation in hard economic times.
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Michael Shannon and Andrew Garfield in "99 Homes"

Michael Shannon and Andrew Garfield in “99 Homes”

99 Homes
Written by Ramin Bahrani and Amir Naderi
Directed by Ramin Bahrani
USA, 2014

Director Ramin Bahrani (Man Push Cart, Goodbye Solo) constructs 99 Homes as a dismal assessment of desperation in hard economic times. Michael Shannon stars as ruthless, e-cigarette sucking realtor Rick Carver, who has used the carnage of the 2008 housing crisis to his advantage, helping the banks toss out homeowners who have defaulted on their bad mortgages. He carries a gun because of how personal and dangerous it can become. He is unabashedly invested in personal gain and his interests are always of the utmost importance. When he evicts Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield) and his family, Nash comes after him, only to find that Carver sees potential in him to be as hard-working and ferocious as himself. With a pulsating score by Antony Partos and Matteo Zingales, 99 Homes frames an outstanding and involving tête-à-tête over the moral state of America.

Both Garfield and Shannon thankfully go back to their dramatic roots after wasting  significant talent on the blockbuster efforts of Man of Steel and the rebooted Spider-Man franchise. Here, they are left alone to build each other up and tear down the dreams of strangers in equal part. Knowing the agony of not being able to provide for his mother (Laura Dern) and son (Noah Lomax), Nash cannot go back to the bottom. He hates Carver, but begins to see how doing everything for yourself leaves you less vulnerable to circumstance and malice. Nash maintains a level head as he starts to help evict the frail and disenfranchised from their family homes, justifying himself by how he is able to provide for his loved ones. Shannon is as menacing as ever, a snarling and corrosive opportunist who insensitively disregards the little people he has to crush on the way to fortune. Garfield holds his own next to him, brazenly questioning his detached rationales with a concerned and merciful tinge to the manner in which he speaks. Set in Orlando, Florida, the atmosphere of the film is defined by swaying palm trees and sunken retirees, and drenched in the sweat of repo henchmen.

Bahrani has refined the trope of corruptive wealth behind 99 Homes to the point that he is able to convincingly convey to us how a good man can be tempted by the lure of money. Garfield looks like a little boy lost in a murky situation until something visibly clicks with the handover of money, and he quite sleekly becomes power-hungry without realizing that his actions mirror that of the villain who almost destroyed him. Shannon’s portrayal of Carver as a man who doesn’t care about the welfare of innocent families caught up in an unjust system is realistically matter-of-fact and stripped down. He’s isn’t an outright evil person, just a ruthlessly pragmatic one. Though 99 Homes gets a bit bogged down with the excesses of the fortunes amassed, the performances are hair-raising and empathetically evoke the distress of being torn away from the people and places you hold dearest. The film is an effective commentary on the awful state of late capitalism and the myriad of contaminating forces that are systematically dismantling the American Dream.

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