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USA 2015
Directed by
Ramin Bahrani)
99 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
4 stars

99 Homes

Synopsis: As the fallout from the Global Financial Crisis of late 2008 starts to hit home, tradesman Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield) loses his job, falls behind on his home payments and is visited by the repossession crew, headed by realtor Rick Carver (Michael Shannon). Dennis is told that he must immediately gather his possessions, his mother Lynn (Laura Dern), young son Connor (Noah Lomax), and get out. They head to a motel where others in the same boat are dwelling. However, Carver’s and Nash’s paths cross and in a twist of fate Dennis goes to work for Carver, initially fixing up repossessed homes, but soon finding himself on the other side of the doorstep.

In 2011, J.C. Chandor’s film Margin Call showed us the GFC from the perspective of the greedy bankers and stockbrokers who nearly brought down the world’s financial system. This film gives us another aspect of the story: that of ordinary people who find their banks foreclosing upon them when they fall into payment arrears. We also meet the chronically-greedy opportunists like Carver who see other people’s misfortune as a chance to make a truckload of money.

The terrific thing about this tale is that, while we feel so strongly about the characters, predominantly negativity towards Carver and empathy for the evictees, nothing is so simple or black and white. Shannon plays Carver as an initially despicable character. In the shocking opening scene in which a struggling homeowner blows his brains out under the stress, Carver is callous and businesslike, moving on to the next eviction, all the while wheeling and dealing on his mobile phone. Only later do we discover his own background and the personal philosophy that has brought him to this place. For him, being a loser is not an option. Likewise Nash seems the good guy and victim, yet he falls easy prey to the lure of getting his home back, making big bucks, and going from loser to winner.  Nash’s arrangement with Carver is tantamount to a deal with the devil, one that he, of course, conceals from his family

Both Garfield and Shannon are compelling in their roles but it is the lot of the many ordinary folk that pack the biggest punch in this film. As the eviction team go relentlessly from door to door and we see and hear the homeowners’ varying reactions, all underscored by an urgent soundtrack, we get a sick feeling. The true and heart-breaking meaning of what it is like to lose it all hits home, underscored by the ignominy of ending up on the nature-strip, desperately trying to cram one’s life into the back of a ute. The human face of people at the mercy of the financial machine is almost too much to look at. Dern and Lomax are a strong support as Nash’s tiny family, for whom home means even more than it does to Dennis.

While the film packs a serious wallop, I have a couple of issues with plotting. The sudden denouement doesn’t ring entirely true, but more than this I found myself a little disoriented by the intricacies of Carver’s business dealings. Acknowledging those small misgivings, I could still recognize that 99 Homes is a truthful and gripping look at the human need for a place to call one’s own and what people will do to retain it.

 

 

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