99 Homes

19 November 2015 | 1:50 pm | David O’Connell

"99 Homes is a visceral and at times disquieting experience, forged by great acting, a powerful script and a shocking subject matter."

After he is evicted from his family home due to bank foreclosure, Denis Nash (Andrew Garfield) is desperate to find a way to regain his house. A chance meeting with Rick Carver (Michael Shannon), the realtor that evicted him, gives Nash an opportunity to earn enough money to reclaim his mortgage. 

Soon Nash becomes privy to a world that is thriving off the fall of the housing market, as he starts to profit from the state of foreclosures and evictions. 

It’s a  sobering piece of cinema that pulls no punches, throwing the audience straight in to the destructive consequences of the subprime mortgage crisis.  Rick Carver is the sort of creation that through great script and acting, looms larger than the actual medium he is in, and threatens to step right out of the screen. Shannon plays him coldly shark-like and, tantalisingly, allows us only the briefest glimpse at his motivations and dreams. Carver seems like an evolutionary step, a perfect commercial predator, allowing him to fill a niche in the changing environment left by the GFC. His sentimental attachment to home and hearth is minimal at best, rather it is a commodity to be flipped for financial gain. He is not a man rorting the system, but rather carefully adapted to it.  As he states, in a scene that is sure to launch a thousand samples, ‘America doesn’t bail out losers’. Rather it is ‘of winners, for winners, by winners’. Social Darwinism at its finest.

That is where 99 Homes shines, when it forces the audience to uncomfortably experience that Darwinism in action. As we are plunged viscerally into Nash’s shock, as he is removed from his home, we empathise with the plight of the evicted. It is a long sequence with the camera following throughout, intensifying the audience’s discomfort, as if we are intruding in a personal humiliation. Throughout the film we see quick repetitions of this scene, as different families are evicted. That empathy moves from the micro scale to the macro, as we first see one family, then tens of families undergo this process. Soon the deals for evictions come in blocks, moving the scale to hundreds, then thousands. When that happens we are aware of the personal tragedy that this economy of scale obfuscates. 

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Shannon and Garfield play perfectly against each other, with Garfield’s naive sentimentality being grist for Shannon’s school of hard knocks tutorials.  Yet although Shannon steals the show, Garfield is far from just his straight man. He elicits sympathy from the audience, and empathise with his decisions (even as we disagree with them). It is also a joy to see Laura Dern doing some sterling work, acting as Garfield’s mother and occasional moral compass.

99 Homes is a visceral and at times disquieting experience, forged by great acting, a powerful script and a shocking subject matter.

Originally published in X-Press Magazine