99 homes

[photo: Broad Green Pictures]

The hard-hitting 99 Homes takes you on a journey of greed and morality, in which no one comes out unscathed.

Andrew Garfield, in his first movie post Spider-man and most adult role to date, plays Dennis Nash, a single father who is trying to save his Florida family home from being foreclosed on. When he fails, local real estate agent Rick Carver (Michael Shannon), who has been profiting from the many foreclosures, comes knocking on Dennis’ door to throw not only him, but his son, Connor (Noah Lomax), and his mother, Lynn (Laura Dern), out onto the streets. The family is forced to move to a low-rent motel that is known for housing other families in the same position. While looking for a construction job, Nash comes across Carver who convinces him to come work for him. Nash, who is a jack-of-all-trades, can’t find work anywhere and eventually decides to work for the man who made him homeless.

At first, Nash works for Carver as a way to earn back his family home, but soon Nash is evicting other families, even carrying a gun in case things get out of hand. He has made a deal with the devil and starts falling deeper into Carver’s web of violence and deceit. On the bright side, he continues to make money to buy his family home back so that his son can go to the same school and grow up in the house he grew up in… but at what cost?

Garfield gives an amazing performance and proves that he will do just fine without the Spider-man suit. His ability to cover his vulnerability just enough is impressive, as he takes the audience on a roller coaster ride, wondering how Nash’s state of mind can endure. As for the ruthless Carver, a real force of nature was needed to play the role, and Shannon has that kind of strength and unapologetic seductiveness to deliver such a performance. The actor shows the core of Carver’s moral system and at times you find yourself not hating him but sympathizing for him. He is just trying to put food on the table and a roof over his family’s head; he is just using a different approach. Dern is a little wasted as Nash’s mother but still delivers a decent performance, while Lomax (Safe Haven) shines as the young Connor, trying to understand what is happening to his family and still remain a kid.

Director/co-writer Ramin Bahrani paints a pretty dire picture with 99 Homes. This is a raw morality play, focused on two characters who are at first on very different paths but somehow come together and end up on the same trajectory towards moral destruction. Setting it in Florida at the height of the recent horrific housing collapse, makes the impact of these characters’ questionable decisions even worse. The hardest part of the film is watching the series of scenes in which Nash has to forcibly evict people from their homes. From a family with small children to an elderly man, seeing people getting abruptly tossed out is heart wrenching. 99 Homes could be the first of many films about the 2009 financial collapse in this country, but centering it on a personal story of human struggles really hits, well, home.