Ruthless businessman and real estate agent Rick Carver (Michael Shannon) is making a killing by repossessing homes on behalf of the banks when owners are unable to pay their mortgage. When he evicts Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield), a single father caring for his young son (Noah Lomax) and mother (Laura Dern), Dennis is so desperate to provide for his family that he agrees to work for Carver, the man who evicted him. It's a deal with the devil - and there is a cost.
Review by Louise Keller:
Against the backdrop of America's financial crisis, this is a troubling look at corruption in the housing sector, when temptation knocks. Ramin Bahrani's tough drama explores the issues effectively by pitting an exploitative opportunist against a man with a conscience. It's a mesmerizing and disturbing portrait, elevated by two strong performances.
In the opening blood-splattered shot, we are offered a glimpse of the lengths to which desperation will lead. Wearing an immaculate white jacket and an expressionless face, Michael Shannon's cut-throat real-estate agent Rick Carver leaves the premises; he is clearly a man with no conscience. With a business model that relies and capitalizes on others' misfortunes, Carver has the market sewn up, continually acquiring more and more market share when homeowners are unable to service their loans. Not only is there a cut when the property is sold at basement price, but there's an additional scam: selling appliances and claiming cost of replacement from the government.
We get to see the process from the most personal viewpoint, when hard-working builder and single father, Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield) is evicted from his family home. Flanked by two sheriffs, Carver callously allows Nash, his young son Connor (Noah Lomax) and mother Lynn (Laura Dern) several minutes to gather a few personal possessions together before having all their furniture unceremoniously dumped on the front lawn. It's a heart-breaking scenario, devoid of humanity.
Don't get emotional about real estate, Carver tells Nash, when Nash does what he has to do to put a roof over his family's head, taking advantage of the only work opportunity on offer - to work for Carver. We can see where it is heading: soon Nash is knocking on the door in a mirrored scenario to the one he encountered himself. Trouble is, he has a conscience. It is impossible not to become involved in the personal stories: the young family left on the street; the elderly man whose reverse mortgage counts for nothing; the man with the gun who will not relinquish his home at any cost.
Shannon is superb as the aloof, unaffected mogul who uses real estate as his stepping-stones to a 'green-sky' future, while Garfield is affecting as the vulnerable, hard-working everyman, who first learns how to survive before realizing the cost. Laura Linney is well cast as Nash's highly principled mother. Relying on the two central performances, Ramin Bahrani's film is as powerful as the topic canvassed.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
It's hardly surprising that the financial crisis triggered by sub-prime loans in the US a few years back (2008) has spewded up this Faustian story. Down the line from Wall Street in the middle America of Florida, clever Carver (Michael Shannon) is capitalising on the misfortune (and/or irresponsibility) of others, people who can't make the repayments on mortgages they never should have got. It's this last point that gives the film its moral complexity. Yes, poor folk being thrown out of their home, kids and all is repugnant to us ... but are they really entirely blameless? Without that question the film would be as flat as cardboard.
The moral selectivity on display appeals to my sense of observational clarity and honesty, which is further exercised by the two central characters. Both are flawed but redeemable. And both Shannon - as the 'buyer' Rick, and Andrew Garfield as Dennis the 'seller' of his soul deliver superb performances. Dennis has good reason to make a trade with his dignity after being evicted and Rick has a logical rationale for pursuing his unsavoury business. That's why the filmmakers have to up the baddie anti with systemic thieving and cheating to paint them both darker and blacker, so as to make the redemption when it comes all the more effective.
Laura Dern is wonderful support as Dennis' mother, playing what would normally be the wife's role in such a film; it's an astute decision that changes the emotional and psychological landscape. We never learn what happened to the wife ... another deliberate choice to avoid us being emotionally sidetracked.
Audiences will no doubt notice the powerful and important role played by the score, from Australian screen composers Antony Partos and Matteo Zingales; important and remarkably effective.
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99 HOMES (M)
CAST: Andrew Garfield, Laura Dern, Michael Shannon
PRODUCER: Ashok Aritraj, Ramin Bahrani, Andrew Garfield, Justin Nappi, Kevin Turen
DIRECTOR: Ramin Bahrani
SCRIPT: Ramin Bahrani, Amir Naderi
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Bobby Bukowski
EDITOR: Ramin Bahrani
MUSIC: Antony Partos, Matteo Zingales
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Alex DiGerlando
RUNNING TIME: 112 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Madman
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 19, 2015