The feel-bad movie of this holiday season also happens to be a brilliant, thoughtful and chilling insight into the trauma of eviction, and exposé of the ruthless entrepreneurs behind it. Greed is good, indeed…
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Who’d have thought that real estate would make for the topic of one of the year’s smartest, most suspenseful and downright electric films? Written and directed by the master of American social commentary Ramin Bahrani (Chop Shop, Goodbye Solo), 99 Homes is a brutally realistic, completely absorbing and utterly compelling insight into the consequences of the economic collapse and housing market catastrophe.
After a life of honest endeavour in the construction trade, hard-working single father Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield) faces redundancy and unemployment when he learns of the foreclosure of his family home. He, his son and mother (Laura Dern) are subsequently evicted by cold-blooded real estate broker Rick Carver (Michael Shannon), and forced into a crappy motel room, until he is propositioned with repairman work by the very man who evicted him. Desperate for cash and out of options, Dennis accepts, finding himself taking on increasingly arduous duties each day. Eventually, the cunning Carver puts forth the opportunity for Dennis to become his assistant, and sacrifice his morality by evicting people from their homes himself.
99 Homes is so unrelentingly intense and scary that it could almost be labelled a horror movie. But this is a film grounded in reality, and perhaps the first to give us an honest look at the heartbreaking emotional turmoil that encompasses eviction.
Garfield’s Dennis is put through the meat-grinder, enduring the anxiety and humiliation of his belongings removed from the home and dumped onto his lawn as the neighbours watch on. Then being forced to do this to other struggling people himself… it’s harrowing stuff, but wholly compelling, and its vicious mentor aspect makes this almost like Whiplash for property foreclosure, though this is more subtle; less dazzling. Everything here feels mercilessly real.
The film has two thoroughly genuine performances to thank for this. Hollywood’s most reliable character actor Michael Shannon is a wave of terrifying calm as Rick Carver, a unique monster in that he is simply a businessman – one utterly devoid of remorse and sympathy. Truly loathsome, Carver could be considered a remarkable villain for his intimidating believability – anyone who has worked in the building or trade industry knows a mogul like him.
However, the film belongs to Andrew Garfield. Sadly receiving the boot as Peter Parker following the cancellation of his not-so-Amazing Spider-Man series (despite easily being the standout of an otherwise average and unnecessary reboot), Garfield needed something fresh to reinvent himself. Thankfully his calling has come with down-on-his-luck family man Dennis Nash; so much so that Garfield is almost unnoticeable in the role – this is a real human being, a determined man unwilling to crack from the overwhelming and unjust pressures of the world. He may have lost his footing temporarily, but here Garfield cements himself as an enduring actor.
Though the film’s climax has no shortage of intensity, its resolution is a tad formulaic, but arguably a necessary evil. A ferocious blast of realism that makes a surprise entry as one of the year’s best – expect some recognition for 99 Homes come the awards season.
99 Homes is available in Australian cinemas from November 19
Images courtesy of Madman Entertainment
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