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99 Homes Review

Andrew Garfield stars in Ramin Bahrani’s gripping drama of greed and foreclosures in post-economic crisis Florida of 2010. Aidan Dolby reviews 99 Homes.

BY Aidan Dolby

Andrew Garfield stars in Ramin Bahrani’s gripping drama of greed and foreclosures in post-economic crisis Florida of 2010.

Typically, Hollywood glorifies the American dream. Not in this film. Ramin Bahrani’s latest work shows the brutality and the brokenness of America, set in Florida 2010, three years after the financial and housing market crash of 2007. This film displays the hard times that followed, driving people to work for buttons and go against everything they believed they stood for. 99 Homes Is about visceral forced evictions, bankruptcy, broken lives and shattered dreams.

Photo by @kg_media_pgh

“Don’t get emotional about real estate” Warns Rick Carver, real estate broker, played by Michael Shannon of who we recognise from such titles as Mud, Nocturnal Animals and Man of Steel. The advice offered up by heartless Carver may have been some practical advice, but his desensitization and greed denies him the true meaning of real estate, which to the masses means safety, familiarity and home. The pulsating opening sequence is where we are first introduced to the figure of Carver, opening with a suicide; a victim of the dream and the banks, about to lose his home, spills his misery which Carver runs on. Unnerved by the corpse splattered bathroom, Carver accompanied by his trinity of henchman sheriffs, locksmiths and a dozen or so repo scum, empty the man’s home like the banks emptied Carver’s morality. Throughout the scene Carver stands in the doorways of whose time has ran out, holding a stance familiar to that of the grim reaper, illuminated by the sinister blue hue emitted from his e-cigarette.

The story then moves on to Dennis Nash, portrayed by Andrew Garfield of whom we recognise from works such as Silence, Hacksaw Ridge and The Social Network, a young, newly evicted single father who becomes the latest of many victims preyed upon by the banks. Desperate to hold his family together and remain in their family home, Nash will do anything for the better of mom Lynn (Laura Dern) and son Connor (Noah Lomax). But as the case for many, Nash’s best was not enough, with Nash falling victim to one of Carver’s forcible evictions. In the viscerally unpleasant scene we see Carver’s henchmen empty Nash’s home to the street. Nash’s appeal to Carver is shadowed by his hyperventilating and brewing aggression, causing for a momentous explosion of emotional upraw towards Carver. The scenes pacing and observational cinematography capture the events in a vérité like manner as if it were the reality of 2010. With a street audience of neighbours, the scene unfolds like a Shakespearean play, wondering who would be next.

“DON'T BE SOFT. DO YOU THINK AMERICA GIVE A FLYING RATS ASS ABOUT YOU OR ME? AMERICA DOESN'T BAIL OUT THE LOSERS. AMERICA WAS BUILT BY BAILING OUT WINNERS. BY RIGGING A NATION OF THE WINNERS, FOR THE WINNERS, BY THE WINNERS.”

We see Bahrani’s frequented adoption of the politically motivated drama, through previous titles such as; Man Push Cart, Goodbye Solo and Chop Shop which are all exemplary works of American neo-realism telling the stories of economic striving and spiritual struggle. 99 Homes is largely a product of Hollywood, through its use of recognisable conglomerate actors Laura Dern, Michael Shannon and Andrew Garfield, however to aid in authenticity both contextually and regionally (and furthering Bahrani’s predecessing neo-realistic style) throughout the film there is a majority of non-professional actors which aids greatly in the film’s authenticity of its narrative. All of the eviction scenes for example, which Bahrani wanted to run and be true to their happening, were filmed in neighbourhoods in Florida where the crash effected, and enforced by actual sheriffs and bailiffs who, over time have had to become numb to the job.

Photo by @bartos

“INITIALLY WHEN I WENT DOWN TO FLORIDA (FOR RESEARCH INTO THE U.S. HOUSING CRISIS), I THOUGHT I WAS MAKING SOMETHING MORE LIKE MY OTHER FILMS—A SOCIAL DRAMA, BUT FLORIDA TOLD ME, ‘NO, YOU’RE MAKING A THRILLER.’ BECAUSE EVERY REAL ESTATE BROKER CARRIES A GUN; BECAUSE THE CORRUPTION IS SO MIND-BOGGLING.”

Ramin Bahrani

Whilst 99 Homes offers a scolding look at a society gone astray, it is also a minor masterpiece of suspense and brutality. Not that there is much in the way of physical violence: fists are raised now and then, and weapons are sometimes brandished. But the threat of destruction is pervasive throughout, aided by the camerawork, editing, and furthered by the anxious score from Antony Partos and Matteo Zingales which throughout creates an overarching sense of danger.

There are times in 99 Homes where the viewing becomes uncomfortable, watching the humiliation of a grown man stripped from all avenues; banks, the courts and government all destroy ‘Nash’s’ soul one by one. Nash, Connor and Lynn wind up sharing a room in a motel overflowing with families in the same boat. It is in this instance we view true desperation, and the transgression from victim to his protégé forms. We see Nash work hard, like Carver, both wanting to pinch themselves from the misery that they are causing. However we witness the pollution of Nash’s morality as Carver’s ideologies are soaked up by Carver’s impromptu lecture within his car on the financial exploitation to be taken advantage of. As the film progresses, we slowly see Nash execute the very event which happened to him, it turns into a dog eat dog situation, as proof of worth to Carver he himself must evict a family from their home. It is here where Oscar nominee Garfield and his performance reaches its peak within, the scene is delivered with such emotional depth and contagion that we instantly empathize towards him.

99 Homes gives an untamed sense of homes true sentimental value. The imaginary strings tied to the owning of a home, which furthers people’s ability to pursue and believe their American dream. Exhibiting once cut free how near impossible to regain the rigged mythology of the American dream it becomes. The deliverance in performance, from both Shannon and Garfield is galvanic throughout, igniting the cold cynical tone over the film. 99 Homes allows for an untamed vérité perspective to the forlorn ability of the dream, due to the broken social and economic state of America.