Dir. Ramin Bahrani
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Michael Shannon, Laura Dern, Tim Guinee
Review By Greg Klymkiw
Michael Shannon (Bug, Take Shelter, My Son My Son What Have Ye Done) is such a great actor, I'd be happy to watch him sitting on the throne George-Kuchar-like and reading aloud from the backs of shampoo bottles a la Woody Harrelson in the Farrelly Brothers' Kingpin as he takes a comfy, cozy and lengthy dump. For some reason, I had a hard time getting this out of my mind at about the half-way point of Ramin Bahrani's 99 Homes.
It's not that there's anything especially wrong with the movie to inspire this nagging image upon my cerebellum, but at a certain point, the screenplay by Bahrani and co-writers Amir Naderi, Bahareh Azimi seemed to be treading such predictable, familiar waters that I realized I'd ultimately need to concentrate on simply enjoying Shannon in the role of a despicable realtor who specializes in foreclosing upon the homes of Americans who've been unlucky enough to get caught up in the housing crisis of the new century.
Shannon is always impossible to not watch, but when he's delivered a role, as he has here, which is essentially a humungous cut of prime, delicious steak, he's enthralling beyond all belief.
As Rick Carver, the hatchet man for banks who've placed ordinary Americans in the dire straights of multiple mortgages, Shannon is Mephistophelean as all get out. His wide, expressive eyes, his thin lips, the face which is Buster-Keaton blank until he opens and/or purses his thin lips to reveal sinister cheek-creases are all the stuff adding up to a relentlessly methodical businessman who'll stop at nothing to evict families, buy their homes for next-to-zero from the banks, renovate them as economically as possible and then flip the suckers for huge profits.
Such then is the central relationship within 99 Homes. Carver is repossessing the family home of the youthful, unemployed handyman Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield, far more acceptable in the role of a proletarian rather than the horrendous turns he's delivered in the Spider-Man reboots). The home has been mortgaged up the wahzoo by his Mom Lynn (Laura Dern) and he's forced to relocate her (as well as himself and his kids) and what few possessions they can get onto a truck into a sleazoid motel crammed with other families in the same boat. You'd think these normal Americans were living in some John Steinbeck novel and/or Third World country, but no, they're pretty much living like a vast majority of Americans these days.
Carver, however, recognizes both a spark and hunger in Nash's eyes and offers him a job on his renovation team with the offer of potentially returning the family home to him. Nash takes to the work like a bat out of frigging Hell and soon he's moved up into the role of a foreclosure agent.
It's fun and compelling to watch a relatively realistic portrayal of a scumbag and even more fun to see the youthful proletarian slide into the same shoes. Alas, where can a story like this really go, though? Hence my occasional mind-wandering at the halfway point as SOMEONE lets his CONSCIENCE get the better of him. Yes, things settle in rather predictably, but the performances are never less than first-rate and director Bahrani keeps it all moving at a decent enough clip.
Whaddya gonna do? What ails 99 Homes is the same thing that befell even Oliver Stone's Wall Street. Still, the potential to celebrate scumbaggery is always worth exploring. Unfortunately, too many films only take you so far down that path until a comeuppance for the said scumbags seems all too inevitable. I know where a film like this in the 70s might have gone, but sadly, we don't live in the 70s anymore.
THE FILM CORNER RATING: *** 3-Stars
99 Homes is a Special Presentation at TIFF 2014. For more info, visit the TIFF website HERE.
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