A father struggles to get back the home that his family was evicted from by working for the greedy real estate broker who’s the source of his frustration.
’99 Homes’ is a phenomenal piece of filmmaking from Ramin Bahrani, a modern economic parable that burns with a righteous anger at the events that followed the financial crisis of 2008. On paper, taking on the subject of real estate doesn’t sound the most enticing, but Bahrani has crafted a terrific taut script, fraught with tension and he directs the narrative like a thriller as we pick up shortly after the financial crisis as many families are struggling to keep up with mortgage payments. The film opens with real estate agent Rich Carver (Michael Shannon) turning up at a property to evict a family who have fallen behind on their payments. The opening shot pans across a room from a man who has committed suicide to the police, the rest of the family, and Carver and his men outside. It’s a brutal and bleak introduction and things don’t get much easier from this point onwards.
Bahrani’s script looks at the vicious cycle created by banks lending too much credit to people, and people willing to take on too much credit without considering the consequences, but his square focus is on those who have been evicted with little or no compassion shown by the banks or the US government. In any crisis, there will be people looking for profit and this introduces us to the villain of the piece, Rich Carver, a greedy real estate shark with no care or compassion for the individuals impacted by his actions. Played superbly by Michael Shannon, Carver rationalises his actions as operating on behalf of the bank, and discusses how he was ‘forced’ into this line of work after selling real estate dried up. He’s the perfect embodiment of the worst excesses of capitalism. Opposite Shannon, Andrew Garfield shines equally as Dennis Nash, a man evicted from his family home where he stays with his mother and his young son by Carver. A turn of events leads to Nash working for Carver and the film expertly portrays the moral consequences of Nash getting in bed with a man who has helped to destroy his life.
The strength of the film is how Bahrani operates in the blurred lines between right and wrong, never condemning Nash for taking the opportunity to get his family out of the trouble they’ve found themselves in, yet he doesn’t shy away from portraying how Nash has now joined ‘the other side’, no matter how he rationalises it to himself. The film is at times brutally heartbreaking as we see Nash move through the ranks of Carver’s organisation to the stage that he starts evicting people himself, with the confusion of one elderly man one of the toughest things I’ve seen on a cinema screen in some time. Garfield expertly conveys Nash’s inner conflict, and the torment his new career is causing him is abundantly clear, but he carries on nonetheless. The script is expertly constructed and every development takes us in a new thrilling direction as we question whether Nash will reach a breaking point. A lot of the film’s themes are conveyed wordlessly as we cut from the neighbourhood homes where people are being callously evicted to the massive homes owned by Carver down by the Orlando waterfront.
This is absolutely thrilling filmmaking from Ramin Bahrani, taking an emotive topic and delivering a stunning riposte about the way the US effectively abandoned many of its citizens after the events of 2008. Outstanding lead performances from Michael Shannon and Andrew Garfield help to drive the powerful narrative, and this is one of the absolute best films of the year. A must see.
Directed By: Ramin Bahrani
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Michael Shannon, Laura Dern, Noah Lomax, Tim Guinee and J.D. Evermore