REVIEW: 99 Homes

22 01 2015

Telluride Film Festival

In 2002, President George W. Bush declared, “Here in America, if you own a home, you’re realizing the American Dream.”  Six years later, that unbridled spirit of homeownership at all costs led to a bubble of subprime mortgages bursting and contributing to the tanking of the nation’s economy.  This time of panic and crisis brought about pain for many hard-working Americans, and it also provides the foundation for writer/director Ramin Bahrani’s gripping look into the dark heart of capitalism, “99 Homes.”

Over five years years ago, George Clooney’s Ryan Bingham arrived on screens to inform blue-collar workers they were out of a job in Jason Reitman’s “Up in the Air.”  A similar task falls to Andrew Garfield’s Dennis Nash, the protagonist of “99 Homes,” who enforces evictions in working-class Florida neighborhoods.  Bingham, however, could stay detached from the plight of the newly unemployed; Dennis can receive no such comfort.  Before becoming the man doing the evicting, he and his family were the evicted.

99 Homes

In order to provide for his son Connor and mother Lynn (Laura Dern), Dennis turns to the very person responsible for putting them in dire economic straits: the vile, e-cigarette smoking realtor Rick Carver (Michael Shannon).  While everyone suffers, his business booms, and Dennis is willing to sell his soul to his persecutor if it means putting food on the table.  Sure, he shares in some of the profits.  But, at the end of the day, Dennis heads back to the same kind of cheap motel to which he banishes countless other families.

Through Dennis, Bahrani brilliantly illustrates the sociological concept of false consciousness.  He buys into Carver’s policies and slowly deludes himself into believing he is of a higher class standing.  Carver, an unabashed believer that America only bails out winners like himself, takes the spoils and leaves workers like Dennis with the scraps.  Advancing out of their precarious position is merely an illusion.

Garfield

If this sounds pessimistic, Bahrani earns the right with his intellectual depth.  “99 Homes” also wisely focuses on characters whose very livelihoods are in jeopardy because of the financial crisis.  Most films that have tried to grapple with the effects of the recession – “The Company Men,” “Margin Call,” “Arbitrage,” “Blue Jasmine” – only dare to assume the perspective of the upper-class descending to the middle-class.  Dennis and his family are not worrying about losing the Porsche or selling off the jewelry.  If they descend any lower, it is outright poverty and destitution.

Stemming from this standpoint, the stakes feel appropriately extreme enough both to feel deeply and contemplate thoroughly.  Bahrani often scores the film with tense, thriller-like music, and it works exceptionally well.  If the lives hanging in the balance and the severity of the moral compromises being made do not merit an increasing heart rate, nothing does.

99 Homes

If the film feels exaggerated and over the top, the financial crisis was an absolute nightmare for many families that felt borderline apocalyptic, so grandiosity is justifiable.  If it feels like a preachy morality play, at least Bahrani has his heart and mind in the right place.  He understands that the home is a symbol of heritage, inheritance, legacy, and personal pride.

Yet “99 Homes” communicates something more important.  The home itself is not the American Dream.  It is the well-being of the people inside of the home.  A-3halfstars

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3 responses

27 06 2017
Ricardo

I came looking for your thoughts on this, because I am still upset at this movie.

27 06 2017
Marshall Shaffer

Can you elaborate on that a little more?

27 06 2017
Ricardo

I wanted to watch Margin Call on Prime, couldn’t find it but 99 Homes was recommended. Sure, why not.
Opening scene has me hooked.
Michael Shannon’s performance seals the deal.
I am thoroughly engaged, more intellectually than emotionally; since it has elements of a thriller, it’s exciting whenever Garfield is stealing A/Cs.

And then Garfield introduces his family to their new home. So far the film has been smart, insightful even.
What if the mom had been totally taken in by the new house, ask zero questions, and the kid is happy he finally has a pool?
That would have been genius! Because that’s what happens right? We turn a blind eye if we are being benefited by it.

Instead, the mom does the usual “I’m taking the kid”. And the kid, who knows nothing at all about morality, lesser of two evils, et al, walks out on his father too!
It’s like he’s a different character from the one we saw two scenes ago.

Oh, but that’s not all. Garfield boozes, falls into depression, and the camera even makes a point of capturing the gun at his side.
And then the ending, more fitting of a Lifetime melodrama.

I watch plenty of bad, terrible, awful, mediocre movies. It’s natural.
But when I watch something that is this good, great even, and then ends up this weak?
It’s upsetting, man!

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