Movie Review: ’99 Homes’

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Plot:  Set circa 2010 during the real estate bubble, 99 Homes follows the story of Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield) and his family.  A recently unemployed construction worker, Nash is evicted from his home despite his efforts in the courts.  With few options and desperate to regain his family home, Nash finds an unlikely ally in Rick Carver (Michael Shannon) the real estate owner who evicted him.  Before long Dennis begins working for Carver, removing appliances from foreclosed homes and eventually doing evictions himself.  As time passes however, Dennis discovers that the temptations of money he never dreamed of and regaining his family home may cost him his family and his soul.

Review:  Before 99 Homes there’s only one perfect film I’ve ever watched that I will never watch again, and that was Requiem For A Dream.  With 99 Homes I now have a second.

Impeccable directing, acting, and story make 99 Homes a flawless film and one of the best released in 2015.  It’s also so heartbreaking and emotional that by the end of the film I felt like I’d gone twelve rounds with Adonis Creed.  Never has the devastation and the emotional toll of eviction been captured so well on film.  I could feel the pain of the Nashes when the moment of eviction came.  I cannot imagine being told by police, “Get off your property, you have two minutes to get your stuff.”  Harrowing.

What often creates a compelling movie  is the ability to take an ordinary circumstance and  make it extraordinary.  Director Ramin Bahrani and his writing partner Amir Naderi accomplished this.  Eviction is a common thing that happens every day.  Going to work for the person who evicted you is not.  Garfield’s character ends up confronting a mover who he believes stole his tools.  This just so happens to occur at Carver’s real estate office.  In the middle of the argument Carver receives a call regarding a house that’s been abandoned and destroyed.  On impulse he offers Garfield a quick $50 to assist. Just like that the relationship between the two is born.  While improbable, it’s realistic and believable because of Naderi and Bahrani’s script.

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From a directing standpoint, Bahrani meshes the themes of 99 Homes with Bobby Bukowski’s cinematography perfectly.  Bahrani employs a 24mm wide-angle lens which captures Nash’s thoughts and emotions.  This results in a greater connection and empathy with Garfield’s character. Furthermore, Ramin Bahrani shot most of the film in broad daylight.  The sun juxtaposes nicely with the tragic events that occur during the film.  Antony Partos and Matteo Zingales’ score also compliments 99 Homes.  Constant fast rhythms create a sense of tension throughout the course of the film.  It’s as if Garfield’s stress was put to music.

This is first and foremost a character driven film.  Andrew Garfield has never been better as the struggling Nash.  When we first meet him, he’s an honest man just trying to provide for his family.  His son Connor (Noah Lomax) and mother Lynn (Laura Dern) are Nash’s life.  Not being able to provide for them truly emasculates Dennis.  Garfield was just an unfortunate victim of circumstance, in the path of the tornado when the recession hit and the bubble burst.  Nash embodies everyone who’s worked hard but come out on the short end.  To watch him transform into the thing he hates, to put people through what he went through is devastating.

I remember a sociology professor of mine once saying, “At some point in your life someone is going to offer you to ‘take the deal.’  And that’s the time you’re really going to find out who you are.”  Unfortunately, Nash takes the deal.  Yet Garfield still provokes empathy because he feels he’s doing it for the good of  his family.  Nash comes across as a man who makes a choice that goes against his very nature.  To see how it slowly tears away his soul is tragic beyond words.  Aside from the movie’s climax one scene stands out in particular.  Nash and his family are forced to stay at a hotel while he’s waiting to get his house back.  One day one of the people he evicted moves in and confronts Nash.  Watching Nash be confronted by the results of his actions and having to explain it to his mother Lynn (an amazing Laura Dern) and his son Connor (Noah Lomax) was one of the most intense and powerful scenes I’ve seen in the last ten years.

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As great as Garfield is in this film Michael Shannon is even better.  This is hands down his best performance to date and recently earned him a Golden Globe nomination.  There’s no doubt in my mind he’ll get an Oscar nod as well.  Shannon’s Carver functions as the polar opposite of Dennis Nash, a mirror of the person Nash could become.  Callous, cruel, and indifferent to the plight of the people he evicts, he’s become numb to the experience. Money not surprisingly is Carver’s main motivation.  He revels in it. Yet Shannon manages to come off ruthless rather than evil.  There’s one point where he reveals to Dennis that he’d much rather be putting people in homes than kicking them out.  Carver’s father was a working class straight arrow who got screwed by his insurance company.  This shapes Carver’s attitude into the mindset of, “I’m going to get mine.”  The fact that Shannon causes the audience to feel even a modicum of empathy for Carver is a testament to his talent.  I truly hated Raymond Carver and all he stood for.

99 Homes is one of those films that makes me feel grateful for all I have in my life.  I can’t imagine the pain of having my life ruined like the people in this movie.  Powerful, riveting, and compulsively watchable, 99 Homes is a movie almost anyone can relate to and a film that will stay with me for a long time.

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My rating:  10/10

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