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99 Homes Movie Review

99 Homes Blu-ray cover art
99 Homes is now available on home video. Read our review of the Blu-ray.

99 Homes (2015) movie poster 99 Homes

Theatrical Release: September 25, 2015 / Running Time: 112 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Ramin Bahrani / Writers: Ramin Bahrani (story & screenplay), Bahareh Azimi (story), Amir Naderi (screenplay)

Cast: Andrew Garfield (Dennis Nash), Michael Shannon (Rick Carver), Laura Dern (Lynn Nash), Noah Lomax (Connor Nash), Tim Guinee (Frank Green), Clancy Brown (Mr. Freeman), Nadiyah Skyy (Tamika), Nicole Barrι (Nicole Carver), J.D. Evermore (Mr. Tanner), Cullen Moss (Bill), Jayson Warner Smith (Jeff), Randy Austin (Sheriff Anderson), Doug Griffin (Officer Dudura)

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99 Homes opens with a powerful, nimbly-shot crime scene. A man has committed suicide in his bathroom to the horror of his wife and children. Police called to the house get a terse comment from Rick Carver (Michael Shannon),
whose arrival on behalf of the bank that has foreclosed on the home to evict the family prompted the fatal gunshot. Carver is not in good spirits, but it's on to the next one: the next call, the next eviction, the next front row seat to the painful, humiliating, public unraveling of a life.

Carver's next target is Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield), a young man who has appeared in court to protest his fate to no avail. Those notices to vacate that have been appearing on the family home where Dennis grew up and now lives with his young son Connor (Noah Lomax) and Dennis' mother (Laura Dern) become real when Carver shows up with sheriffs in tow, giving the Nashes two minutes to pack what they need before they vacate the premises. The rest of the Nash possessions are swiftly transferred to the front lawn for them to collect in the next 24 hours.

Sleazy real estate mogul Rick Carver (Michael Shannon) takes evicted home builder Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield) under his wing in Ramin Bahrani's "99 Homes."

The time for courtesies, excuses, and second chances passed, the Nashes are uprooted. Dennis, a contracted home builder who has not been paid for his previous two weeks of work, tries to make things right, scrambling for job opportunities and pro bono legal representation. But for now, he, his mother, and his Magic-loving son are stuck living in a seedy motel alongside a number of rowdy folks who have similarly been evicted from their Orlando area homes.

Pursuing a missing toolbox he suspects was stolen by Carver's hasty movers, Dennis ends up with a cash-paying job shoveling feces out of a foreclosed home. His willingness to get dirty for a few hundred dollars makes an impression on Carver, a real estate agent who has switched over to the dark side of evictions to considerable personal gain. The money comes at a cost: Carver has to deal with irate people with nothing to lose. He carries a licensed, concealed pistol on his ankle and claims he hasn't enjoyed a meal out with his family without looking over his shoulder. Carver makes mortal enemies every working day and it's easy to loathe this sleazy man who has gotten rich off of others' misery. But if he wasn't the one doing these evictions, someone else would.

It understandably is not easy for Dennis to go to work for the man who just coldly separated his family from their lifelong home. But he needs money and Carver has plenty of it to go around. Not all of their work is by the book. They tear out central air conditioning units and other appliances as a business tactic. They conduct fraudulent cash for key exchanges by having acquaintances pose as tenants of unoccupied homes. They swindle the insurance companies for big payouts. Even a tiny 6% commission on these dealings gives Dennis multi-thousand dollar checks and the ability to repurchase his foreclosed home from Carver. It is with a heavy heart and his family's interests in mind that Dennis carries out this work, keeping his new job secret from Mom and his son.

In "99 Homes", Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield) goes from being evicted to the guy evicting others.

Directed and co-written by American-Iranian indie filmmaker Ramin Bahrani, 99 Homes is raw, real, and edgy. It kind of plays like a modern-day Wall Street with house evictions being the new shady, lucrative stock trading. It is a timely drama, as the country continues to deal with the fallout of the housing market crash.
Foreclosures, evictions, and un/underemployment are topics that will hit close to home for some viewers and too close for those who value cinema for its escapist value. This is the opposite of escapism. Bahrani presents these realistic problems in an authentic and compelling fashion. The film wields the impact and understatement of a well-done documentary, a genre in which the director has dabbled.

Much of the film's success is the result of its two talented lead actors. Shannon has emerged as a frightening volcano. Moviegoers may know him from things like Man of Steel and Premium Rush, but his best work has been in smaller films like Take Shelter, for which he should have been more widely recognized. He is a believable and appalling Devil here, preying upon the ill-fortuned. Even Carver's hiring of Dennis is an unholy seduction, not a tossed bone of compassion but a seized opportunity for exploitation. The desperate Dennis has no better choice but to do Carver's dirty work and his work ethic is strong enough to support his electronic cigarette-smoking boss' brand of comfort.

Shannon's pitch-perfect villainy is practically expected, but the film's real revelation is Andrew Garfield as the protagonist. Garfield's arrival as sharp support in The Social Network was soon eclipsed by him landing the role of Spider-Man. The iconic superhero brings instant fame and fortune, but with great power comes great responsibility and Garfield bears perhaps the greatest weight for audiences' vocal displeasure of the reboot series scrapped after two outings were tepidly received domestically. Directors whose eyes were caught by Garfield's work in Network and Never Let Me Go could or would not really pursue the 32-year-old Brit with Spidey on his slate. But, in his first non-Spidey role since Eduardo Saverin, Garfield truly impresses. He conveys the conflict and stress of his character's predicament with the smallest of gestures, a convincing working class demeanor, and a flawless American accent.

When famous Hollywood actors attempt to sympathize with the impoverished, you always run the risk of artifice and condescension. Bahrani and his cast eliminate such concerns by just going about this story in an honest way, utilizing actors who aren't glamorous or adopting obvious airs. The film is cynical and at a few points it's a bit less than subtle and heavy on coincidence. But it's also important, poignant, and sincere.

Finally reaching limited release over a year after playing at Venice, Telluride, and Toronto, the film is almost certainly too small to garner any notice from the major awards. And yet, you'll be hard-pressed to find another 2015 release with two central performances as good and substantial as these.

Buy 99 Homes on Blu-ray exclusively at Best Buy / Buy from Amazon.com: DVD / Instant Video

Related Reviews:
Now in Theaters: Pan • The Walk • The Martian • Black Mass • Sicario • Everest • Pawn Sacrifice • The Intern
Andrew Garfield: The Amazing Spider-Man • The Amazing Spider-Man 2 • The Other Boleyn Girl
Michael Shannon: Take Shelter • My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done • Premium Rush • Man of Steel • Revolutionary Road
Beasts of the Southern Wild • Wall Street • The Company Men

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Reviewed October 9, 2015.

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