Saturday, April 16, 2016

99 Homes: Movie Review


Making deals with the devil – thrilling, intense, fascinating.
99 Homes is the best film ever made about the housing crisis. It combines the reality (banks foreclosing on homes) with real emotion (option-less people both heartbreakingly giving up and being pushed to their violent limits) surrounding a story about a ruthless villain turning a down-on-his-luck victim into a rising star using the basic film formula of descent-into-madness. It is both a taut, entertaining, comedic thriller and emotional family drama. Or arguably, a Greek tragedy. 2014

Directed by: Ramin Bahrani

Screenplay by: Ramin Bahrani, Amir Naderi

Starring: Andrew Garfield, Michael Shannon

It opens with the blood on the bathroom walls of a man who just killed himself in his home that was foreclosed. This is the heartbreaking reality of what happened when banks got greedy (we don’t get into how it happened, just a reality-based fictional tale of what happened). Real-estate broker Rick Carver (Michael Shannon) is able to put on a face of empathy for the camera, but it’s all business for him. Yes, you read that right, when witnessing the aftermath of a suicide, he has to pretend to care. This is very clearly the evil side of the housing crisis.

The only criticism that people have been able to levy on writer-director Ramin Bahrani is that Rick doesn’t have a good side to him. He’s the devil with a little red devil on both shoulders. He can’t hear the little white angel because they don’t exist. I don’t even think this is a particularly good criticism. His villainy isn’t one note – it’s about greed, power, lack of sympathy, and it feeds on itself. In every action he does, it’s a slightly different character trait that compels him to do the wrong thing. But here’s an important thing to remember, Shannon’s Rick Carver is not the central character. The push and pull between good an evil doesn’t exist in him, but it does exist in Dennis Nash.

Dennis (Andrew Garfield) has a young son, they live with his mother, he was a construction worker, and he used to be a home-owner. It was a smart choice by Bahrani to put Dennis in a profession that was more directly hit by the housing crisis than any other. There’s just not enough work to go around. When his home is foreclosed, he reacts as the audience expects him to, with anger. He pleads his case to the judge and when that doesn’t work, he takes it out on Rick Carver’s employees who were hired to clear his belongings from his home.

Rick, ever the opportunist, sees Dennis’s anger as a sign of somebody who will do whatever it takes to earn a paycheck. Dennis is now working for the devil, and the rest of the movie (most of it) is a gripping, powerful, very emotionally-charged and extremely suspenseful tale about the deals people have to make with themselves when they accept such a position.

Shannon and Garfield are both excellent and Ramin Bahrani has achieved the near-impossible. 99 Homes is an exciting (although hard to watch at times) crime drama about real people set in the recent past. I was riveted from the devastating beginning to the devastating ending with some thoughtfully intriguing turns in between.
Best of 2015