Sunday, September 27, 2015

Review: 99 Homes

Image courtesy of Broad Green Pictures.
Director Ramin Bahrani has, surprisingly, made a career of crafting serious message movies and morality plays - and I don't mean that pejoratively - for adults in an era when producers mostly want to throw their money behind YA adaptations and franchise films. And he's increasingly been able to draw name actors as his leads.

His latest, "99 Homes," is one of his best and certainly among his most intense and tightly wound. In the film, a struggling-for-jobs construction worker named Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield) lives with in Orlando with his mother (Laura Dern) and young son (Noah Lomax). As the picture opens, he finds that he is losing his home during a visit by some particularly unpleasant police officers and a sleazy real estate broker, Rick Carver (Michael Shannon), who have come to evict the family.

Through a strange twist of fate and, mostly, desperation, Nash goes to work for Carver in an attempt to get his home back. He begins doing odd jobs, such as fixing up properties where families have been given the boot, but ultimately becomes Carver's underling, assisting in throwing out families similar to his own. In some ways, the relationship between Nash and Carver mirrors the one between Charlie Sheen and Michael Douglas in "Wall Street," but most of the characters in this film aren't successful day traders, but people whom the system has failed.

This all leads to some extremely intense moments, including one in which a homeowner brandishing a gun suggests that Nash step off his property and another in which a man Nash evicted spots him and his family at the hotel where they are staying until he is able to move back into his old home.

It's also interesting that while Carver is the obvious villain of the film, he reminded me a bit of Daniel Day Lewis' iconic Daniel Plainview from "There Will Be Blood." You recognize that he's a bad guy, but he occasionally has a good point about human nature and you understand that his greed was borne out of his own past struggles. In this case, Carver tells a story about how he intends to be different from his father, a lower class roofer whom the system also failed.

Bahrani's films - "Man Push Cart," "Chop Shop," "At Any Price" and, my personal favorite, "Goodbye Solo" as well as this new one - all depict characters at difficult points in their lives, struggling to make decisions by differentiating between the right thing to do and what's necessary. His films are very much set in the real world and one could rightfully call him a humanist.

Michael Shannon has long been an actor on the rise and his performance as Rick Carver is a particularly good one. While you could easily write him off as a crook and a villainous individual, you also can't deny the very human elements of his character. And Garfield's strong work here as Nash will quickly help you to forget his recent "Spider-man" follies. Dern is also very good as his mother, who is torn between finding a home for her grandchild and being upright.

"99 Homes" is a powerful drama that plays like a thriller and, at times, it is grueling. It depicts people who have slipped between the cracks and are having a seemingly impossible time getting a foothold again. And its depiction of real estate ownership as a measurement of belonging as well as the desperation involved in trying to hold onto what you have in a system that, as Carver puts it, "favors the winners" is especially harrowing.

No comments:

Post a Comment