Timely, topical, toxic, scary, and uncomfortable! These are a few of the words that can describe 99 Homes. Think “location, location, location” and you will know this movie is about the real estate market. In brief, a desperate, unemployed construction worker (Andrew Garfield) in the post-economic crash of Orlando, Florida accepts a job with a real-estate broker (Michael Shannon) who is ruthless in his evictions. A Faustian deal with the devil is in the making.
Please watch this film twice. The first time through, curse words will be forming in your mind, while the second time, questions of what is legal, what is moral, and what are we willing to do for our family begin to form. Shannon’s Rick Carver buys foreclosed homes and flips them at considerable profit, sometimes with a little extra from Fannie Mae. Deregulation allows Carver to become a man with little humanity. Why bother with compassion he learns, as he goes from one successful foreclosure to another. Even the suicide of a man about to be evicted is seen by Carver as just a mess to clean up.
Carver soon arrives at the home of Garfield’s Dennis Nash, where he lives with his mother (Laura Dern), and son (Noah Lomax). As construction work is not steady during this economic collapse, Carver tells Nash he has 30 days to file an appeal. Nash cannot afford to do this. Besides, this is his family home where his mother earns a little money from her home business. Nash succumbs to Carver’s suggestion that he become his “protégé” to work with his real estate posse who strip every belonging from the foreclosed homes and throw them to the curb.
Nash struggles at first – the money is good, never mind the horror of what he is seeing. Carver asks Nash if he ever goes to church, and reminds him that only one in a hundred can get on the ark. Is this a facile question or is it rationalization for unregulated capitalism? The high tension in the film continues through eviction scenes, brutal business practices, and courts that offer no help to those who cannot meet their debts.
No need to spoil the ending for readers, but most critics thought it was “over the top” – too coincidental and too much of a deus ex machina. It’s a sad scene with an old man. Suffice it to say that Nash has now succeeded financially, but at what cost to his own humanity and to his family?
This story of exploitation and extortion can be seen as 99 percent vs One Percent, as the rich get richer and the middle class gets kicked out of their social strata and their homes. Is this capitalism at its best? worst?
Other questions – why have I not seen this movie until now? Why have I not heard anything about writer/director Ramin Bahrani? The film was released in August of 2014 with an $8 million budget and $1.9 million box office return. OUCH! Did Film Club 3.0 show it and I wasn’t there??? Was there no national publicity? Were theaters scared to show it? Or was the newly founded Broad Green Pictures (founded in 2014) too new to distribution to handle a Toronto/Telluride/Venice/Roger Ebert Festival film? Whatever happened, those who did not see it missed a film with good actors and a timely story.
[Side note: Bahrani is now adapting Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 for HBO. Hope we see this one!]