Ramin Bahrani has never been short on things to say regarding the cracks in the American system and those unlucky masses who slip through. His first three films followed defiant immigrants; his last a troubled farmer; but his latest is surely the most disillusioned of them all. 99 Homes is a nerve wrecking tirade on the United States' foreclosure epidemic which seems to channel the fury of Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath except that Bahrani tells the fable from the other side.
It's 2010, we're in Tampa Florida, and a young single father (Garfield) is fighting tooth and nail to cling onto his family home. He's out of work; his credit's shot and it becomes immediately apparent that his hopes are too. He is kicked out of his home by a slick operating real estate broker (towering Michael Shannon) with no shortage of cash, or policemen, in his pocket. Things start to look awfully precarious but then, a few days later, that same broker decides to offer him a job. Garfield seems at first to be disgusted by the offer but desperate times force his hand. His Faustian pact leaves him plying his trade as a construction man in worn down properties before more lucrative, far shadier, dealings come on the cards.
This is a film which clearly states that those oh so American ideals of family and home are no longer sacred, and that greed and one-man ideology are the new dream. A country of untouchable crime up top and dog eat dog desperation below.
The final shot harks back to the closing moments of Bahrani's excellent debut. Man Push Cart seemed to end the worst day imaginable with a casual moment of everyday solidarity; subtly reassuring us that, even when things are at their worst, life does go on. On first glance 99 Homes might not look like it's waving a banner for such things, but we assure you the message is there.
Following the screening, Bahrani opened his press conference to a packed out crowd by saying that "this type of crime is systematic in the world". The press room had no shortage of Italians, Spanish and Irish (well one at least) who knew it all too well. This is a director who believes that good cinema can make a difference. He believes that "the world will vanish into one final vulgar selfie" without it.
A slight hush fell over the room for the briefest moments before he returned, one last time, to the mic:
"Money is not as powerful as art."
I'm still not sure on that one but I hope one day to agree.