From the opening scene of “99 Homes”, it’s quite apparent you’re about to watch a deadly serious, brutal take on the housing crisis of the mid oughts. Blood is literally spilled and the movie only gets that much more tense and realistic from that moment moving forward.
Set in Florida, one of the states hit hardest by unscrupulous mortgage practices, “99 Homes” is unflinching and attacks your mind and heart. It’s led by Michael Shannon’s Rick Carver, a merciless real estate shark that preys on those who are in the unfortunate position of home foreclosure.
One of those people that Carver evicts is Andrew Garfield’s Dennis Nash. Dennis lives in his childhood home with his mother, Lynn (Laura Dern), and his young son, Connor (Noah Lomax). Their eviction is shown from start to finish and should rip the heart out of every single person watching it. Dennis’ emotions go from disbelief to shock to anger to hopelessness in just fifteen minutes of movie and it’s excruciating to see.
A series of events lead Dennis to seek out Carver and, after a spat with one of his flunkies, Carver sees some fight in Dennis and offers him a job. Unfortunately, it’s not exactly the fanciest gig ever as it involves cleaning a jammed up, overflowing septic system. Dennis’ resourcefulness does lead Carver into giving him a full time job.
Unfortunately, Dennis’ desperation to get his home back outweighs his morals and he begins doing several highly illegal things for Carver, all while scamming Fannie Mae loopholes and abusing the Cash For Keys program.
While it’s easy to despise Dennis and Carver for what they are doing, the dilemmas involving home foreclosure are never preachy or one sided. The torment of watching people tossed into the street is gut wrenching, but when Carver argues to take emotions out of it as these are people who willingly got in over their financial heads, this sociopath-turned-realtor almost makes sense.
That unique, unbiased balance of raw emotion versus cut-throat money grubbing is deftly handled by screenwriter and director Ramin Bahrani. Until this point in his career, Bahrani had only made documentaries. “99 Homes” is about as far away from documentary filmmaking as one can get while still being fully informative.
There are moments in “99 Homes” staged by Bahrani that are just as tense as movies with men walking high wires or attempting to climb mountains. The events in this movie are terrifyingly real and in your face, creating something far scarier than any cornball horror movie could fathom.
In what seems like his first adult role, Andrew Garfield excels. His handsomeness immediately disappears behind a gruff, scraggy beard and unfitting business casual clothing that make him look like an impostor. Garfield is so convincing as a blue collar construction worker that when he isn’t taking a pull on a cigarette or hammering a nail, he looks out of place.
In short, there is no possible way to ignore the fact that Andrew Garfield is massively talented and “99 Homes” could solidify him as an A-list dramatic lead actor.
Then, there is Michael Shannon. This is a tour de force performance that can only be compared to Michael Douglas’ Gordon Gekko. Shannon commands your attention and is an actor that is simply impossible to ignore. He barks out insults and orders, often with hilarious snark, only making him disgustingly endearing.
Shannon is so good that you’ll catch yourself liking his characterization of Rick Carver then hating yourself for it. He is the Frankenstein Monster of real estate, created in a lab with equal parts opportunism and predatory greed.
Be advised that “99 Homes” is not remotely close to a feel good movie. There are moments of joy that briefly pop up and then are tossed to the side, much like the belongings of those thrown from their homes. This movie’s goal, however, is not to be two hours of depression. “99 Homes” wants to expose those who took advantage of the unfortunate while showing that getting that extra buck may not be worth it.