It’s always a treat when a thespian has the opportunity to really act. Andrew Garfield hit the big time with a supporting part in The Social Network back in 2010. The attention he drew got him the lead in The Amazing Spider-Man reboot as well as its sequel two years later. I didn’t care for those movies. They were little more than CGI fests and they did nothing to show off the talent he displayed in his earlier work. Now he’s back to his indie roots with this well made production about the housing market crash of 2008. I suppose the same could also be said of Michael Shannon. He starred as the main villain in 2013’s Man of Steel. The difference is that the Superman picture was sort of an exception to the sheer number of indie films (Revolutionary Road, Take Shelter, Mud) he normally does.
99 Homes is a social issue drama concerning Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield) and his family when the bank must foreclose on his home. The blue collar single dad, his young son (Noah Lomax), and his mom (Laura Dern), are suddenly without a place to live. The setting is Orlando in the wake of the 2008 subprime-mortgage crisis. Real estate developer Rick Carver (Michael Shannon) is in charge of the eviction. He takes advantage of these foreclosures by swooping in and buying up these homes at a profit. He is an opportunist who is insensitive to, even critical of, their plight. “Dennis, you borrowed $60,000 and didn’t’t pay it back — ain’t that stealing?” he chides.
Michael Shannon clearly has the juiciest role. As a hissable villan, he gives the individual life, relishing in his personality where compassion is a weakness. His “greed is good” ethos would make him a good buddy of Gordon Gecko in Wall Street. “Don’t get emotional about real estate, ” he warns. They’re boxes. Big boxes, small boxes. What matters is how many you’ve got.” Indeed he tosses off words of wisdom that deserve to be oft-quoted lines. He’s the proverbial person you love to hate. But is he truly the villan or is the system itself? The temperament of Andrew Garfield’s Dennis Nash isn’t as extreme, but his construction worker has the most compelling character arc. His sweet, gentle demeanor is engaging for the opposite reason. But his decency has a price. As his desperation increases, he caves to darker impulses to provide for his family.
Together Michael Shannon and Andrew Garfield provide a captivating study of personalities that interact over an ethical and moral divide. This harrowing chapter of recent history mines socio-political themes for genuine human drama. Director Ramin Bahrani co-wrote the script with Amir Naderi from a story by Bahareh Azimi. The director rachets up the tension and takes what could have been a dry subject into a powerful narrative. Things get intense and watching people lose their homes can be pretty uncomfortable to watch. There’s a surprising amount of suspense in the simplistic but well acted character examination. Unfortunately the ending lacks the punch of the rest of the film. While it entertains, it also informs, giving us a window into how reckless monetary policies contributed to the the financial recession of 2007–09. Andrew Garfield and Michael Shannon portray the human and often painful side of what happens when the economy fails. 99 Homes is the intimate side to an epic saga.