99 Homes (2015)
Directed by: Ramin Bahrani
Premise: An unemployed handyman gets evicted from his home when he defaults on his mortgage. In a turn of events, he takes a job with the real estate broker who evicted him, first repairing repossessed houses and later expelling people from their homes.
What Works: 99 Homes is part of the genre of recession cinema, a field of movies that includes titles like Margin Call, The Big Short, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, and Too Big To Fail. This particular film is distinguished from these other movies. A lot of recession cinema tells stories of people working in and around financial institutions like the major banks and so the dominant point of view of the 2008 economic collapse has been the recession’s impact on Wall Street. That’s left the economic hardships of the lower and middle class off the screen. 99 Homes takes a different approach and its story focuses on how homeowners from a range of economic strata were impacted by the recession and the way in which the downturn destroyed existing wealth and created new opportunities. 99 Homes centers upon a handyman, played by Andrew Garfield, who is laid off from his homebuilding job and then is evicted from his house, landing his family in a hotel. Through a series of circumstances, Garfield’s character gets a job with the real estate broker who evicted him, played by Michael Shannon. Garfield’s character impresses Shannon with his work ethic and the handyman becomes the real estate broker’s protégé, first stripping homes of their appliances and later overseeing evictions. There is a lot of Oliver Stone’s Wall Street in 99 Homes in that a young hungry guy is taken in by an unscrupulous mentor and is tempted by money but later experiences a crisis of conscience. The two lead actors of 99 Homes are terrific. Andrew Garfield’s character has a big leap to make, going from a blue collar handyman to a white collar real estate broker, but he makes it credible. Also impressive is the way that Garfield plays the stress of his character’s beleaguered conscience. The flashier part of 99 Homes belongs to Michael Shannon and as usual the actor’s intense demeanor makes him an imposing villain but Shannon also has that same Mephistophelian quality that Michael Douglas had in Wall Street. More than anything, 99 Homes is successful at portraying the allure of money and the moral and ethical ambiguity of capitalistic success stories.
What Doesn’t: The conflict of 99 Homes reaches its crisis point when Andrew Garfield’s character realizes that his mentor and others are engaging in fraudulent business practices. It’s discovered that the bank is missing a key piece of paperwork which puts a major real estate deal in jeopardy. The bank’s solution is to fraudulently create the paperwork; this places Garfield’s character in an ethical bind. The plot twist is based on fact but it has the effect of simplifying what is hereto a complex conflict. Throughout the movie Michael Shannon’s character skirts the line between shrewd businessman and criminal while Andrew Garfield’s character uncomfortably tries to maintain his integrity. The final portion of 99 Homes removes the ambiguity, clearing the way for the story to end on a conclusive note. The finale wraps up the picture but it doesn’t quite fit with the tone of the rest of the story. There are also a handful of plot developments in 99 Homes that don’t make sense. Garfield’s character and his family move into a hotel that is essentially a tent city for evicted homeowners but they stay there even after Garfield’s character achieves employment. There are also some late developments involving the mother and son that don’t make sense. 99 Homes moves along briskly enough and the drama is sufficiently captivating that these problems don’t weigh the movie down too much.
DVD extras: Commentary track, deleted scene.
Bottom Line: 99 Homes is a very effective thriller. The movie manages to make a story about mortgages and foreclosures as gripping as any action film and it’s also a smart tale of corruption.
Episode: #592 (April 24, 2016)