Directed by Ramin Bahrani
Thanks to some cracking acting from both Michael Shannon and Andrew Garfield, a very well written and observational script, and a simple but effective screenplay, 99 Homes is a drama that manages to turn a story about real estate into an incredibly tense and emotional experience.
The story begins with single father Dennis Nash working on a construction site, until he is told to go home; that the construction firm he was working for has gone broke and two weeks of work will go unpaid. This quickly leads to what must be a horribly familiar scene for some unlucky people; Nash is struggling in the courtroom, his words going unheard as he begs the judge to not take his family home from him. The atmosphere feels cold and clinical, as Nash is simply told by the judge that he has another 4,000 cases waiting, and most of them are no different. It is a quick but telling scene; quickly putting into perspective just how many people went through these struggles, and how they were treated in court.
It doesn’t take long for Rick Carver to enter the fray, a crooked businessman who makes his money in anyway possible within a seemingly dead real estate industry. Constantly on his phone, looking for any chance he can to make some money – often at others’ expense – Carver is a perfect example of how greed and an obsession with the bottom line can corrupt a person beyond the point of no return. He arrives at Nash’s front door with the police, and a smooth and calm demeanour, he softly explains to Nash that the house is now owned by the bank, and that he is now trespassing. This all makes for a very depressing scene, though you would never think it looking into Carver’s eyes, who only sees giant sacks with a dollar signs on them. He also seems to harbour a distaste for the people he is kicking out. As far as he sees it, these people borrowed money from the bank and didn’t pay it back. They took it and didn’t give it back, simple. Carver is very black and white in this sense, with no grey areas to be found – which is probably why he is able to live his own life in luxury, complete with family and a maid, without going insane from guilt. Everything he does he can logistically explain away.
After an emotional scene, Nash and his family (his mother and his only son) are unceremoniously forced out of their house by Carver and his cronies, and the family are given till the end of that day to pick up all their belongings – all of which have been moved out of the house and onto the front lawn. With no place to go, they move into a motel, which is filled with other evictees struggling to make ends meet. To make things worse, the situation has interrupted young Connor Nash’s education, as well as separating him from his friends.
The best part of the story comes next and drives the rest of the film. Dennis Nash comes across Carver soon after his eviction, claiming that his tools had been stolen. Given his financial situation, he was probably lying through his teeth, as when Carver offers him work – the man who evicted him not too long before – Nash readily accepts the dismal pay and eventually becomes Carver’s apprentice of sorts, helping him kick people out of their homes, just as Carver kicked out Nash. At first I thought, why the hell would anyone work for the man who kicked them out of their house? I didn’t buy it. But it becomes apparent that Nash accepts the job out of financial necessity; he doesn’t want to be doing this. He obviously knows the pain he is inflicting on other people, and is consequently conflicted whenever he has to do his job. This internal conflict gives each eviction a heavy impact, as Nash is far from the slick, calm, well-rehearsed Carver. But what choice does he have? He can’t find work anywhere else, and he is finding that the amounts Carver are paying him are growing. Has the greed of Carver rubbed off on the younger Nash? This is the main question that drives the final act, one that is tense and will have you guessing.
This drama feels fresh, as we live in a capitalist society, and there will always be people like Rick Carver, for whom the bottom line is top priority. Greed is an easy drug to become hooked on, and many people compromise their own values and beliefs due to this money-lust. Compounding this is the fact that the cost of living is going up consistently, which give the evictions in the film some real dramatic heft. Running for less than two hours, it is an extremely effective and emotional story told efficiently. Through the story and the script, 99 Homes certainly takes some pot-shots at the American government, but this feels like a natural part of the movie. It is reality; there is no bias here. Underrated and under-appreciated, I hope this finds a bigger audience when it hits DVD.
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