99 Homes (15) | Close-Up Film Review
Dir. Ramin Bahrani, US, 2015, 112 mins
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Michael Shannon, Laura Dern, Noah Lomax, Tim Guinee
“America does not bail out losers. America bails out winners… America is a rigged nation”
99 Homes largely plays out as a cautionary tale of the dangers of the real estate market worldwide. Although for the purposes of the film this tale is placed in a microcosm of the American real estate market before and after the financial crisis of 2007-8, Bahrani building a very harrowing portrait of one family’s struggle to keep their heads above water as they attempt to retain possession of their family home.
The immediacy of 99 Homes is perhaps the strongest element of the film. Stark from beginning to end and rightfully so, the film pulls no punches in detailing the strife of one family who, after falling behind on house payments are forcefully, but lawfully, evicted from the only home they have ever known and forced to live in a hotel. From the film’s opening, on the sour tone of a suicide, there is nothing that is not explored as a consequence of losing your home. The ugly truth remains steady throughout as good men do terrible things in order to escape the inherent woes of poverty.
With Andrew Garfield refreshed after his lengthy absence since the ill fated Spider Man franchise (2012 and 2014 respectively), he plays the lead role, the down on his luck single father and breadwinner Dennis Nash, alongside Michael Shannon as the corrupt, cold-hearted real estate tycoon Richard Carvier. Performances throughout are superb as both work tirelessly to assemble the immoral world they both occupy.
99 Homes will resonates with audiences due to the fact that we are still recovering from the global financial crisis making it not only a timely film but essential viewing within the current film market.
Bahrani employs a pulsating soundtrack and a shaky camera styled cinematography, really allowing audiences to grapple with the authenticity of the film’s storyline whilst creating a strong sense of tension, angst and claustrophobia. This, matched with the film’s pacy editing really helps to reinforce the chaotic feeling of the eviction process in which individuals, often whole families, are forcefully removed from their homes and are given only minutes to collect their ‘essentials’.
The idea of personal wealth, both literally and hypothetically receives a lot of commentary throughout. After Nash is offered a rather unorthodox job offer by Carvier in the wake of his own eviction by the very same man, a job which would mean he would essentially be doing the same to another unwitting family or individual, Nash becomes the close personal henchmen of Carvier to one end – to regain the legal title of his home.
After making his deal with the devil, Garfield’s character transforms in the quest for what appears to be a simple goal. However the symbiotic relationship that exists between the two men is anything but clear-cut in the world Bahrani creates, as each character represents to the other both the problem and the solution in the seedy underworld of the American real estate market.
Perhaps the clear strengths of 99 Homes are the character development and performances of Garfield and Shannon. From the onset Shannon appears as wholly unfeeling, calculated, merciless, vicious and hugely powerful, juxtaposed against Garfield’s sullen, hard-working, well-meaning single father. The film brings a modern spin on the David versus Goliath myth, with Garfield appearing genuinely disillusioned, a desperate father and family man fighting against the American justice system at any cost and by any means.
Unlawful practices and double dealing become the focus of the film. Whether or not these practices are truly a mainstay of the market, 99 Homes is a timely exploration of the global housing crisis, in this instance restricted to an American landscape.
Review by Rayvenn Shaleigha D’Clark