There are plenty of movies about the men and women who have contributed to the ruin of America over the years. They glorify the people who do the scamming, and we simply hear that somewhere out there, people are being affected by it. 99 Homes aims to tell the other side of that story. It’s a film that wants to show us just how devastating the effects of the 2008 housing bubble were on the people who we might only give a moments thought when we hear about them on the news if you’re not one of them yourself.
Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield) is a working class Florida man living in the very home he grew up in with his mother Lynn (Laura Dern) and son Connor (Noah Lomax). He’s having some trouble paying the bills though, and the court rules to evict him from his home. Before he and his family can appeal the case, the bank comes a-knocking in the form of Rick Carver (Michael Shannon), and kicks them out by force. Desperate for work and behind his family’s back, Dennis ends up under Rick’s wing performing evictions, doing some extra construction, and doing a couple illicit realty scams for extra cash.
99 Homes is at it’s strongest when it’s relishing in extended and heartbreaking eviction scenes. There are a great many sequences that are just Garfield or Shannon interacting with their heartbroken clients, and these moments never fail to feel utterly real and more than a little terrifying. Director Ramin Bahrani shoots the film in a hand-held style that makes us feel like we are on this eviction team with these guys, standing right there watching these families fall apart before our very eyes. This is particularly effective when Dennis’ family is evicted, as we start in their home, and slowly but surely get kicked outside with them.
It certainly helps that we have a few master actors here to carry these scenes along. Slightly inconsistent southern accent aside, Garfield is genuine and raw in the lead. His Dennis is a morally compromised man who in his mind might as well be making a deal with the devil in order to protect his family. We see every inch of pain on his face as he carries out these evictions, and that creates some fierce rage when he’s forced to interact with the outside world. Laura Dern is also very strong as the fearful yet strong willed mother. However, the real star here is Shannon, who gives a whirlwind performance as Nash. He’s a guy who comes off very harsh and cynical when we first meet him, but when the film starts to pull back his layers we find that life has beat him into submission to become this way. It helps that Shannon can seem deceptively friendly, and then borderline terrifying in the span of a second. This is a character who could have so easily been a one dimensional money grubbing villain, but thanks to sensitive writing and Shannon’s brilliant performance he just feels like another man who’s just doing what he can.
The film starts out really strong and holds that momentum for a great deal of it’s runtime. However, as the scams and schemes of the banks and realty companies start to get more complex, the film starts to fall in love with those as opposed to it’s characters. It turns into a series of boardroom conversations for a little while, and those aren’t nearly as compelling as being a fly on the wall while these people do their work. The film does end on a pretty strong note though, with a final frame that some might find a bit ambiguous, but really resonated with me.
A good movie that comes so very close to being a great one, 99 Homes does a fantastic job of conveying the emotional toll doing one of the hardest jobs in the world. It calls to mind films like The Messenger as we go door to door ruining one life after another. It’s richly acted and very well directed, but just looses it’s pace on it’s approach to the runway. It’s still very much worth seeing though, if nothing else just to feel a bit of extra empathy when words like “eviction” and “housing bubble” are said on the news while you’re eating your hamburgers.