Friday 1 April 2022

Movie Review: 99 Homes (2014)

An economic crisis drama, 99 Homes burrows into the human carnage caused by a financial mess, the American Dream in tatters while schemers accumulate wealth.

Orlando is in the grips of the 2008 Great Recession triggered by the sub-prime mortgage default crisis. Labourer Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield) can no longer find work, because no new homes are being built. He lives in his childhood home with his mother Lynn (Laura Dern) and young son Connor, but is well behind on the mortgage payments. Nash is unable to convince the court to give him more time, and is summarily evicted. Realtor Rick Carver (Michael Shannon) takes ownership of the house on behalf of the bank.

Nash moves his family to a cheap motel, and in a chance encounter Rick offers him a job to help with all the properties controlled by the realtor. Nash proves capable, and Rick gives him more responsibilities, then a cut of the commissions and expenses flowing from banks and government agencies. Nash is suddenly making a lot of money and dreaming of getting his house back, but he is also actively helping Rick evict families out of their homes.

Carver: Don't get emotional about real estate, they're just boxes, little boxes, big boxes. The more boxes you own the better.

For every dollar lost a dollar is made, and 99 Homes is a wide-eyed look at an epic net-zero game. Director Ramin Bahrani co-wrote the script with Amir Naderi, and delivers a powerful story of fundamental economic destruction: families being thrown out of their homes according to court orders, sheriffs doing the dirty work, realtor Carver orchestrating the tragedy, his crew of cleaners immediately placing lifelong belongings on the curb. Barhrani injects remarkable pain into these scenes, exposing a nation haemorrhaging empathy one middle class residence at a time. 

While ex-homeowners become desperate motel tenants, Carver is accumulating wealth by skimming wherever he can, charging the government for unneeded repairs, and pocketing commissions by flipping homes. Once Nash gets in on the action he too finds it intoxicating, and he profits from the graft. He also turns from eviction victim to instigator, his transformation excruciating because it resonates as a rational deal with the devil in desperate times.

Carver: Only one in a hundred's gonna get on that ark, son. Every other poor soul's gonna drown.

Conveying darkness at the drama's core, Michael Shannon gets the best lines and stands tall as the antagonist exploiting a broken system. His Carver is just the latest incarnation of the expert recognizing there is money to be made in times of mass misery. Andrew Garfield matches him in a performance requiring first bewilderment then recalibration. In comparison to the two leads, Laura Dern is stranded in a poorly defined role as Nash's mom.

Carver: Don't be soft. Do you think America give a flying rat's ass about you or me? America doesn't bail out the losers. America was built by bailing out winners. By rigging a nation of the winners, for the winners, by the winners.

In addition to a few logic gaps - like why Nash stays at that scuzzy motel when the money starts flowing - 99 Homes unfortunately backs away from fully doubling down on a toxic definition of capitalism. The final act introduces corrupt politicians and large scale developers colluding in a dizzying deal involving hundreds of properties, with Nash and Carver maneuvering to maximize their profits. But Nash retains a flicker of compassion, leaving him conflicted when one owner makes a final stand. When money is gushing in one direction only, hesitation and self-doubt are a sure path to drowning.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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