99 Homes is a brutal gut punch to anyone who’s ever wanted a roof over their head to call their own. Thanks to electrifying performances from the two leads and the questionable morality at its core, Homes is a tense, grim reminder of the suffering following the US housing collapse.
99 Homes (2015) is directed and written by Ramin Bahrani and stars Andrew Garfield as struggling builder Dennis Nash. After his home is foreclosed by ruthless property tycoon Rick Carver (Michael Shannon), Nash compromises on his struggling morality and makes a deal with the devil in order to keep a roof over his family’s head.
At the core of the narrative is the classic age-old moral question: is it wrong to do bad things for good reasons? In this case 99 Homes offers up a definitive answer and portrays the moral conflict in Nash unsettlingly well. Its a situation almost anyone can relate to in some regard and Bahrani’s writing coupled with Garfield’s performance keep Nash likeable even as he descends to the dark side.
The tone of the film is befitting of its script. Its tense and often difficult to watch, even straying into legitimately unsettling scenes. Those scenes in particular are exceptional – you wouldn’t consider a film about real estate to elicit real fear, but so many foreclosure sequences feel so real and raw that its impossible to not only empathise with them, but fear for your own situation. It just hits so close to home (I’m sorry, that pun was bloody awful but it was just too easy). The one issue I have with the power of Homes is that it often feels emotionally manipulative. Its easy to pick scenes that are designed to make you feel cheerful, then uncomfortable, then shocked and while the shocking scenes do their job, the heartfelt side often feels too cliché and intentionally manipulative to effectively work. To the average viewer its shocking and heart-warming, but to anyone with even a drop of cynicism, Homes peaks and troughs frequently.
Another part of the film that equally succeeds and fails is the pace of the film. Its quick and snappy which I would normally appreciate, except for the rushed feeling felt through most of Homes’ first half. Considering how much this film attempts to tug at people’s empathic heart strings, its a struggle to understand why they would rush over scenes which could have had a much meatier emotional impact. That being said, once the halfway mark hits the film settles into a steady rhythm and the emotional beats begin to really hit home (again, sorry, that one was unintentional).
Garfield and Shannon are another two reasons Homes works so well. As I previously mentioned, Garfield captures the likeability of his character perfectly while still portraying his inner conflict in a subtle, smart way. While Shannon is clearly the simpler character out of the two, he keeps Carver from becoming the typical evil villain that he honestly should be. Instead he’s just portrayed as a rough, driven opportunist with massive unquenchable greed. Not inherently evil, but morally flawed and selfish. Clearly its meant to reflect many real individuals actually preying on foreclosed homes and it that regard the character works perfectly.
While Homes does often try too hard to manipulate its audience like Carver would with property, when it does succeed its a truly powerful experience. Not for the faint of heart, but if you’re looking for a tense drama/thriller that will unsettle you more than you would expect, 99 Homes has your number.
General Audiences: Highly Recommended
Film Buffs: Highly Recommended