99 Homes is a tension filled drama set during the recent housing crisis. Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield) is a hardworking blue collar guy who only wants to provide a good life for his son and mother (Laura Dern). But as a building contractor struggling in the housing collapse, work becomes harder to come by, and Nash finds himself fighting to keep his family home from being foreclosed on. When the inevitable day comes and the sheriffs come knocking on the door to evict the family, there's a man named Rick Carver (Michael Shannon) claiming to represent the bank ready to escort them out. With a cool precision, he presents the hard facts that the Nash family doesn't want to hear, and ushers them to the curb with whatever they can carry in their arms.
As Dennis moves his family into a sketchy motel, he keeps repeating the calming phrase to his mom, "I'm gonna figure it out", as much trying to convince himself of it as her. The pressure of an imploding job market for his skills, a son who he doesn't want to let down, and a mother who relies on him has him angry and desperate. He ends up at Carver's office and follows him to a job site, looking for confrontation. Dennis sees the man who tore his family from their home only hours earlier as the enemy. But as he's seeking some retribution, Carver instead presents him with work. If Dennis is willing to literally shovel crap for him, that is.
And so starts the slippery slope. Dennis quickly gains the trust of Carver, becoming his most trusted employee. Carver plays off of the vulnerability and desperation of Dennis and uses him to implement his plans to screw the government and homeowners through illegal loopholes he has exploited. Like a viper, he is poisoning everything he comes in contact with. Dennis is seduced by the money that is being thrown at him to help Carver acquire homes by any means necessary, even becoming what he once hated, as he begins evicting others from their homes. Dennis convinces himself that it's all just to get back his house, but he's too ashamed to tell his mother or son the truth about what he does.
Director Ramin Bahrani does an excellent job giving us a feel for the tension within Dennis Nash. Cinematographer Bobby Bukowski opens the film with a long, unbroken shot following Michael Shannon's Carver as he arrives at the site of an eviction, barking his very direct, to-the-point orders to everyone all while puffing on his E-cigarette and taking important phone calls. It establishes this man as no nonsense immediately. Bukowski also pulled of another great trick when it came time to evict the Nash family. He chose to shoot it with a handheld, and as we cut to Garfield's character struggling to accept that he's losing his home, the camera starts to slowly spin around him. It creates the swirling sense of dizziness that must be going through Dennis' mind as he's being told he has 2 minutes to vacate his house.
Michael Shannon took this role of Rick Carver and ran with it. Few actors are better at playing menacing and charming at the same time. This felt like a showcase for that, especially as he presents his arguments for why society is at fault for creating him. Shannon has fast become a favorite of mine with his ability to take any movie he's in and elevate it with his performance. As he slowly corrupts his new apprentice, I found myself imagining this film as a pseudo Devil's Advocate and Shannon usurping Al Pacino as the devil.
Andrew Garfield, as Dennis Nash, was believable as the honest guy who slowly got sucked into becoming the monster he hated. His moments of despair with his son were heartbreaking. You care as you watch him slowly lose his soul, all as he gets everything he thought he wanted. Garfield's accent is convincing, as he's proven over and again. And in the presence of a scenery chewing force like Michael Shannon, he stood up well.
My main issue with this film is the pacing following the initial conflict. The turn both characters make, especially Garfield's, in the snap of a finger is jarring. The emotions that are brought to the surface in the eviction are negated immediately when Carver offers Dennis a job and he accepts with little hesitation. It felt like there should have been a bit more trepidation on his part.
This film has a message, but not an agenda. It presents itself as a cautionary tale where no one wears a white hat. Greed can corrupt all, even the most well intentioned, and Bahrani shines a light on that once again. If you're looking for a film packed with solid performances and tension, you could do a lot worse than 99 Homes.
Jamison Rabbitt reviews films through many mediums, all of which can be found on Twitter @americascohost, @realfilmscast, or @reelreviewstv or watch him on Youtube HERE.