99 Homes opens up on the immediate aftermath of a suicide, and tracks immediate response through a continuous shot focusing on real estate mogul Rick Carver (Michael Shannon). Although Carver’s arrival brandishing an eviction notice prompted the incident, he seems more concerned with being late to his next appointment than he does releasing a statement. Shannon struts through the house chewing the blood-spattered scenery, offering quips, barking orders and delivering sharp monologues to immediately establish who owns this film. The camera glides smoothly around Shannon’s presence and the score is simple but pounding, almost notifying the audience that this is a film which adamantly refuses to drop the intensity level.
It then proceeds to completely drop the intensity level.
The story follows an out-of-work single father named Dennis Nash (a woefully miscast Andrew Garfield) whose home is foreclosed on during the 2010 housing crash. Desperate for a job, he finds himself working odd jobs for Carver, the man who closed the deal on Nash’s own home. Nash falls deeper and deeper under Carver’s wing while working to pull his son and mother (Laura Dern) out of the hotel they are stuck living in. This leads to Nash making moral compromises and hurting people much the same way Carver hurt him. In a completely original and not at all contrived plot development, he begins to make more and more money but loses sight of what’s really important: a three-bedroom house in suburban Orlando.
It’s easy to see why an awards-season drama would want to take on something as poignant and topical as the housing crisis. It would just be nice if they actually had something to say about it. 99 Homes doesn’t go any deeper than saying, “The economy is bad,” and, “It is sad when people lose their houses,” but it goes to great lengths to convince you that it does. Scenes of misery go on long after someone should have yelled cut, and they don’t add anything. It just wallows in people’s sadness until you aren’t able to feel bad for them anymore; you just want it to move on already.
Usually-competent director Ramin Bahrani alternates between praiseworthy production and amatuer-level mistakes. Handheld cameras interject themselves into scenes where they add nothing. A high-level sound design shows the fear in Nash’s living situation, but it also inserts unneded background noise into moments of silence. We get two near-identical montages of Nash doing and saying the same thing over and over again. On a technical level, there’s virtually no storytelling here. This is likely a reflection of the fact that on a screenplay level, there’s no story to tell.
I understand the attempt at realism when you’re tackling a real subject that affected thousands of people. But the truth is, if you want to present a real argument, you’re going to present people yelling the same things repeatedly, talking in circles, and shouting over each other. That’s not interesting or endearing to watch. The many, many plot contrivances destroy any right the film has to claim an attempt at believability. What we’re left with is two hours of Michael Shannon absolutely railroading Andrew Garfield as the latter attempts to stumble and stutter his way through a Southern accent.
Shannon does his damndest to carry this film on his shoulders, and while this is admirable, he is but one man. The script has him alternate between cartoon robber baron and sympathetic figure faster than even he can track. He could have all the intensity and Southern charm of Faulkner, Twain, and Tennessee Williams combined and it still wouldn’t be enough. With no story to tell besides “bad guys broke the economy,” 99 Homes is a nice attempt at tackling a serious societal fear, but there’s a massive difference between saying something exists and actually talking about its existence. The latter is interesting; the former is pandering. We know which one this film is.Liked This? Share It!