99 HOMES review by Ronnie Malik – Andrew Garfield works for a ruthless Michael Shannon

99 HOMES review by Ronnie Malik – Andrew Garfield works for a ruthless Michael Shannon

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99 HOMES

Director: Ramin Bahrani

Cast: Andrew Garfield, Michael Shannon, Laura Dern, Clancy Brown and Noah Lomax

Rating: B+

America is the land of opportunity where owning your own home is a possibility and the ultimate dream.  Sometimes the dream can become a nightmare when uncontrollable or unforeseen circumstances threaten the foundation of American life.  The film 99 Homes, directed by Ramin Bahrani, explores the turmoil and ripple effect of the mortgage and housing crisis that took place a few years ago.  Set in the state of Florida, the storyline follows an odd pairing between a naïve construction worker and a ruthless real estate mogul.

Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield) has not been making payments on the family home he shares with his mother Lynn (Laura Dern) and son Connor (Noah Lomax).  After making a desperate plea in the courts not to foreclose on his house, Dennis believes he has bought himself 30 days to save his family from the threat of being booted out of their current residence.  But much to his shock and dismay, a knock comes on the door and standing in his front lawn is the police and Rick Carver (Michael Shannon).

Rick is an unscrupulous broker for Carver reality (a firm he obviously owns) that makes a living evicting people and profiting from their losses.  The tall brooding cigar-smoking and menacing realtor has no sympathy for Dennis as he pleads for more time and tries to convince Rick and the police that there has been some mistake.  Bestowing generosity, Rick does give the young single father’s family two full minutes to gather their belongings and vacate the premises. With nowhere to go,   Dennis takes his family to a run-down motel inhabited by others forced to leave their homes due to foreclosure.  All the unemployed construction worker can do is try to put one foot in front of the other to move forward and find some way to solve the dilemma of being homeless.

One day in the near future, Dennis crosses paths with Rick again who strangely enough offers him a job.  Desperate to make money quickly, Dennis basically signs a contract with the devil and becomes the real estate broker’s wing man.  Being Rick’s shadow means learning all the underhanded tricks of real estate and how to get rich quick.  Making lots of money fast, Dennis almost can’t believe the good fortune his partnership with Rick is bringing.  A few hundred dollars for some odd jobs turns into thousands as he starts learning the ropes.  But at the back of his mind something is always eating away at Dennis as his conscious speaks to him about the cruelty of the immoral tactics he is enforcing at Rick’s command, all for the sake of a quick profit.

99 Homes is a gritty, raw, fast-paced thriller that keeps you on the edge as you wonder if Dennis will lose his soul to his satanic mentor who he believes is his new best friend.  Following Dennis on his quest through the neighborhoods of Orlando, the film takes you down twists and turns as the real estate wanna-be grapples and comes to terms with what he is actually doing to those who have no real understanding of what is happening to them.

The film accomplishes a dramatic heavy feeling during several heartbreaking moments, showing the emotional turbulence a financial crisis will cause people to go through when things beyond their control take over their lives. Captured on camera are the distraught looks of despair and defeat as one victim after another are forced out of their homes.   And it hits home that the sad reality depicted on film actually happened to many unfortunate people.

Michael Shannon is brilliant as the evil villain living large. He does an amazing job portraying a man who is ruthless in his pursuit of taking advantage of the loopholes in predatory lending, and is able to use his own logic to justify every nasty thing he does. Shannon smoothly delivers countless speeches throughout the film on how his way is the right way and nothing is his fault.  He is deliciously wicked in his role as the unethical tycoon.  Adding even more gusto to the film is the amazing performance by Andrew Garfield as the rather trusting innocent little fish trying to swim with a dangerous shark.   Garfield shows off earnest, anxious, and wanting to please while he battles the unrest within him as he starts to recognize the harmful ramifications of a crooked business.  You can clearly see into his character’s mind as he struggles between the greed that is overcoming him and the empathy he has for those who are casualties of a broken banking system.

99 Homes is a film that does have a few issues. Rick Carver is so mean that he almost comes off a bit contrived. Anyone with any real estate or banking knowledge will be able to spot the limited explanation of what went on to cause the housing crash. A weak and somewhat unrealistic flat ending takes away from the storyline, which may leave some feeling a little disappointed with the film.

Despite a few glitches, 99 Homes is a very powerful and raw production with a punch that explores the pride and sense of security associated with owning a home.  This quick-moving emotionally intense thriller (that at times is hard to watch as it portrays the grim pitfalls of capitalism) will keep you guessing till the end and once over will generate plenty of conversation. This is not a feel good tale but it is a riveting story that will not be easily forgotten and for the most part is extremely well made, making 99 Homes totally worth watching.

99 HOMES opens October 9, 2015

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