How desperate would you have to be to accept a job from a man who kicked your family to the curb? Would you be able to put aside your anger and moral outrage over the loss of your home if the man who tossed you out dangled a lifeline when no other options were available? And if you said yes to his offer of employment, how much shame would you feel at being grateful for his money?
99 Homes is set during the worst U.S. housing crisis in history, a period in which homes were foreclosed on at one of the highest rates in history in large part due to abusive lending practices by financial institutions and mortgage companies. The court system was unsympathetic to homeowners behind on their payments, and banks snatched up properties while families were left struggling to find an alternate place to call home.
Andrew Garfield plays Dennis Nash, a single father faced with taking jobs from Rick Carver (Michael Shannon), the realtor who enforced the bank’s foreclosure order. The Nash family was literally given just a few minutes to take only the items they could not live without, with their neighbors and friends watching in shock from the sidewalk as Dennis was blocked from re-entering his home by law enforcement officers working with Carver. After losing his family’s home, Dennis, his young son, and his mother (Laura Dern) have no choice but to move into a low-rent motel where other families in similar situations are also temporarily housed.
Dennis works in construction but the jobs are few and far between so when Rick offers him a chance to earn much-needed cash, there isn’t an option to say anything other than yes if he wants to feed his family. He’s too ashamed to admit who he’s working for to his mother and son, but he’s not too ashamed to take on additional job duties for Rick, eventually becoming his right-hand man. And in that elevated capacity, Dennis becomes the man he hated, knocking on doors and delivering the devastating eviction news to people who have no means to fight the legal orders.
Co-writer/director Ramin Bahrani (Man Push Cart, At Any Price) doesn’t paint Rick as the devil in a business suit but instead allows him to be multi-layered, providing a plausible backstory into how he became a millionaire at the expense of struggling Orlando, Florida homeowners. Michael Shannon is near brilliant as a man who on the surface appears to barely register the consequences of his actions as they’re taking place, yet you know he fully realizes the impact he has on the lives of strangers in financial trouble.
Andrew Garfield is terrific as Dennis Nash, a father who will do anything no matter how it tears him apart inside to keep his son feed and safe. The best scenes in 99 Homes come when it’s just Shannon and Garfield’s characters on screen, feeling each other out, and Shannon’s Carver pushing all the right buttons in order to get Dennis to alter his moral code in order to collect a healthy, life-altering paycheck.
99 Homes is exceptional storytelling until the final act. The resolution to Dennis’ moral dilemma over being employed by a man he despises is too tidy and false. It plays out as though the true ending would have been too harsh for audiences to accept and so this alternate ending was selected just so we could feel slightly better about having empathized with Dennis in the first place. Was this ending what Bahrani had in mind all along? I walked out of the theater feeling cheated by just how neatly the story ended and disappointed by what’s basically a cop-out after having been emotionally invested in Dennis’ journey from the opening scenes. 99 Homes rang the doorbell on greatness and then ran away before letting the audience see what’s really behind the door.
MPAA Rating: R for language including some sexual references, and a brief violent image
Running Time: 112 minutes