Highlight Review 2015: “99 Homes”

Posted by Michael Parsons on December 29, 2015 in / 1 Comment


“99 Homes” is the “Training Day” of the real estate industry. A dramatic thriller set in 2010 Orlando, the film introduces us to Rick Carver (Michael Shannon), a ruthless broker at the scene of a suicide in a recently foreclosed-upon property. It’s just one of many pit-stops in a busy day of evicting people from their homes. Cleaning up by picking up Fannie/Freddie properties for a song while getting reimbursed by the government for stolen materials that he uses for renovations, we see that Carver is not only opportunistic, he’s a cut-throat crook. One of his foreclosures belongs to Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield), a hard-working contractor who’s just lost his job due to the decline in new construction. Dennis lives with his mother (Laura Dern) and 12(ish)-year-old son Connor (Noah Lomax) in a cozy neighborhood, but as the film’s scope widens we see that the suburban sprawl is more like the Wild West for predators like Carver. Orlando was one of the hardest-hit cities, so it’s a fitting microcosm for the crisis.

But writer/director Ramin Bahrani (“At Any Price”) isn’t in it to teach an economics class (I highly recommend “The Big Short” for prep viewing). This raw, intelligent and emotional flick is all about the characters, and boasts two of the year’s best performances, courtesy of Garfield and Shannon. With nowhere to turn, Nash and family end up in a fleabag motel that resembles a foreclosure fallout shelter, an unsustainable living condition by most measures. But jobs are virtually nonexistent. Not afraid to get his hands dirty, Nash finds himself picking up construction work for 99-homesthe same heartless bastard that put him in his desperate spot. Carver sees potential in Nash–in part because he’ll wade into a river of shit to fix a septic malfunction when none of his dim-witted minions will, but mainly because of his ingenuity–thus taking him under his wing like Palpatine seducing Anakin Skywalker to the Dark Side. “When you work for me,” he growls, “you’re mine”.

Sucked into Carver’s sketchy but lucrative enterprise, Nash becomes enticed by his lavish lifestyle, at first questioning Carver’s ethics, but eventually convincing himself that he’s doing right by his family. Quickly, Nash finds himself knocking on doors with the all-too-eager Sheriff’s department in tow, a dangerous task that justifies an open-carry gun permit (if that sounds far-fetched, Bahrani’s research says otherwise). But kicking people to the curb doesn’t come as naturally to him as it does Carver, particularly when he ends up at the home of one of his son’s classmates and father (Tim Guinee), who gets busted stealing water and electricity from one of Carver’s neighboring properties.

“99 Homes” (now in between its theatrical release and slated February 9th DVD/VOD availability) is one of the best films of the year, an intense and unsparing drama. Shannon is sensationally wicked as a businessman who will stop at nothing to expand his empire, though his character is not without depth. One particularly compelling speech gives some insight into his background, a sob story told by a sociopath. Garfield runs the gamut of emotions, from enraged and desperate to grateful to conflicted to morally compromised, and eventually regretful. The excellent script from Bahrani and Amir Naderi (from a story by Bahrani and Bahareh Azimi) is minimalist in composition but meaty in dialogue, perfect for the two leads as their dynamic shifts from predator/victim to employer/employee to criminal/accomplice. Not to mention Dern, who is ideal as a young single mom (also see last year’s “Wild”), and proves to be vital in re-calibrating her son’s moral compass when he loses his way. Don’t miss this one–it’s a riveting, thought-provoking picture.


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Michael Parsons

Father. Realtor®. Movie nut. After pestering my parents for their commentary on “Star Wars” when I was four years old, my mind went into a creative frenzy. I’d imagined something entirely different than the actual film, which I didn’t end up seeing until its 1979 re-release at the Uptown Theater in Washington, DC. This was my formal introduction to the cinema.

During that long wait, which felt like an eternity to a child, my mind was being molded by more corrosive stuff like “Trilogy of Terror” and “Rosemary’s Baby”, most of which I’d conned various babysitters into letting me watch on television ( I convinced one poor lady that “Jaws” was actually “Moby Dick”).

The folks were pretty strict in that regard, so the less appropriate it was for a kid to watch, the more I was fascinated by it. Horror staples like “Halloween” and “Friday the 13th”, as well as lesser-known low-budget fare like “Madman”, “Sleepaway Camp” and “Pieces” all ended up sneaking their way into the VHS on a regular basis.

Since then, I’ve developed an obsession with the entire film industry. Even though I watch and review a wide breadth of films these days, my appreciation for the campy, poorly lit micro-budgeters still lends itself to my evolving perspective on movies just as much as the summer blockbusters and Oscar contenders. As I recall my trips to the movie theater, I realize that this stuff is about much more than just a fleeting piece of entertainment.

A couple years ago, I was finally given the opportunity to lend my opinion on films to a publication, The Rogers Revue, with a subsequent run at Reel Film News. It's been both a privilege and a gateway to what we’re doing now. Most of my experience has come from interviewing independent filmmakers, who consistently promote innovation. The filmmaking process is grueling and relatively unforgiving.

Fellow film enthusiast Eddie Pasa and I have created DC Filmdom as a medium for film reviews, discussion, and (inevitably) some debate. And so, the creative frenzy continues.

(Michael is a member of the Washington, DC Area Film Critics Association).

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