’99 Homes’ is Horror Film About Capitalism Gone Awry

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Following the economic collapse of 2008, the housing market plunged into a world of despair for many American homeowners as their homes were foreclosed on and they were subsequently evicted. This process consumed the homes of millions of Americans. 99 Homes, the new film from director Ramin Bahrani, isn’t concerned with what caused the myriad of foreclosures that have plagued America. Instead, Bahrani and co-writers Amir Naderi and Bahareh Azimi are interested in the robber barons that made millions off the misery of many, gaming the system to line their pockets. 99 Homes makes for a tense drama that boasts another excellent performance from Michael Shannon playing a character much more villainous than General Zod without the burden of laughable dialogue.

Set in Florida in 2010, Shannon plays Rick Carver, a self-made real estate mogul who is making a killing on the buying and selling of foreclosed houses. When we first see Carver, he is discovering that his scheduled eviction won’t go as planned since the desperate homeowner has taken a revolver to their head. He puffs on his e-cigarette and defiantly continues his business day. Meanwhile, Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield) is having a hard time making ends meet working construction, the economic troubles of the time having laid waste to the construction industry. The home where Dennis lives with his mother Lynn (Laura Dern) and son Connor (Noah Lomax) is in danger of being foreclosed on, and their attempts to save their home have been fruitless. Then comes the day when Rick Carver, accompanied by two members of the Sherriff’s Department, have come to evict them. With nowhere to go, Dennis and his family take up quarters in a hotel that has become a haven for many foreclosed families. Through a series of events, Dennis finds himself working for Carver in order to scrape up some money. Before long, Carver takes Dennis under his wing, teaching the ropes in this perverted game of capitalism gone awry. Though Dennis soon starts making more money than he could ever imagine before, it may very well cost him his soul and more.

Unlike The Wolf of Wall Street, which also dealt with unscrupulous entrepreneurs engaged in financial malfeasance, 99 Homes is focused greatly on the human toll as a consequence of these modern day robber barons. Whether it’s the opening aftermath of a suicide or the pained emotions of a family forced to move their belongings on to the curb in front of what was once their personal American Dream, 99 Homes is greatly about profiting off the pain of other’s hardships. Employing extensive close ups and handheld shots of the hired hands moving out the possessions of the deposed, Ramin Bahrani won’t allow the audience to avert their eyes to the callous horrors of a system gone wrong.

Andrew Garfield gives a fine performance as Dennis, though it could be said that he wears the emotional conflict of his character a little too much on his sleeve. But he’s very much a character that profits at the cost of his own self, tumbling down the rabbit hole of greater profits and a calloused attitude towards the downtrodden. But 99 Homes is Michael Shannon’s show and he doesn’t disappoint one bit. Chomping on his e-cigarette while ripping off those in need and the government programs designed to help, Shannon’s Rick Carver is such a menacing figure of cutthroat capitalism, a Gordon Gekko for the Great Recession. “America doesn’t bail out the losers,” Carver intones in an impassioned speech that explains his moral relativism in the face of human suffering. Sadly, though, Laura Dern is very much sidelined for much of the film in favor of the dynamic between Dennis and Carver. It’s the right narrative choice, but it’s a shame seeing such a wonderful actress relegated to a role that doesn’t reach its importance until the film approaches its conclusion.

99 Homes is a smart drama that takes its inspiration from a real life horror that still continues to this day. It’s a well-acted, well-written work that drives the audience out of their comfort zone, pushing them towards an outrage at the injustice of a system tilted towards the top. 99 Homes is a vital film about an important subject, one that opts to examine the damage left behind instead of solely the fruits of the plunder. The film is unsettling and unflinching in its portrayal of unfettered capitalism as a system of horror.

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