Director: Ramin Bahrani
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Michael Shannon and Laura Dern
Running Time: 112 minutes
Release Date: October 2nd
For a movie about Florida real estate, 99 Homes is fairly prescient to modern day Ireland. The financial crisis created a new breed of homeless, those who work but who have been kicked out of their homes due to negative equity or after housing wasn’t built to spec by corner-cutting developers. Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield) finds himself in that situation, a builder living just outside Orlando whose work has dried up and is foreclosed on by the bank. He’s evicted by Rick Carver (Michael Shannon), a real-estate agent who just might be the Prince of Darkness himself, Memphistopheles decked out in light pastel suits and, most-heinously, gleefully vaping as he ejects people from their homes. Strapped for cash, he enters into a Faustian bargain with Carver, helping him first renovate empty homes before eventually becoming his protégé evictor.
It’s reminiscent of a credit-crunch Wall Street that’s a little less black and white with its portrayals of avarice. What’s refreshing is that Bahraini (Man Push Cart and Chop Shop) doesn’t explicitly judge either of his leads. Dennis’ need for cash to help his family and acceptance of doing whatever it takes is flawed but ultimately understandable. In an interview with the AV Club, Bahrani said that much like a death row executioner, a forecloser exists because society created the role and somebody needs to do it. Even Carver, who seems to take some hedonistic pleasure from it, is an ugly afterbirth of Boom and Bust economics. He sold homes before but then there were no homes to sell, leaving him to cannibalise all around him like a Florida gator eats its young. In a speech, he reflects that greed isn’t necessarily good, but it was a necessity because “America doesn’t bail out losers.”
Garfield does emotional wreck well — every moment throughout he looks ready to unleash a flood of tears that would raise the Gulf of Mexico. His voice crackles as he tries to vacate people from their homes and he’s never in anyway believable as authoritative. He’s the perfect foil to Shannon’s ferocious confidence. As Carver, he’s both larger than life in performance and physicality, his six-foot plus build just consumes the frame. He’s quick-witted, charming, unrelenting and prone to violent explosion; dealing with him is like playing keepie uppie with a live hand grenade. It’s mostly a two-lead dominated movie but there’s good support on the fringes too, particularly Laura Dern who politely reminds us that yes, she’s still around and yes, she’s still incredible. (Real talk, Hollywood, get Laura Dern some more roles.)
Bahrani brings a strong sense of place to proceedings, nailing the monotonous myriad of condos and strip mall motels of Florida. He uses an anachronistic electro score, not unlike the one Steven Soderbergh’s The Knick, that pulses in and out — particularly in a glorious opening tracking shot — and heightens tension. Its pay-off can be telegraphed well before the half-way point but 99 Homes is still a worthy watch, thanks to Garfield’s naive vulnerability and Shannon’s monstrous turn.