After he can’t get paid for a construction job and ends up unemployed, single father Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield) gets behind on his mortgage and ends up being evicted by Rick Carver (Michael Shannon), a man for whom the human cost of taking people’s homes isn’t as important as the amount of money he can make. However, after an angry Nash goes to Carver’s company hoping to reclaim tools he believes have been stolen, he ends up getting employed by Rick.
Initially he thinks he’s just going to help with clearances after the people have been thrown out of their house, but as he gets deeper into Carver’s world, he becomes involved in a web of morally bankrupt real-estate scams and downright theft, taking advantage of both normal people and the government. Conflicted about what he’s doing he keeps his new role secret from his child and mother (Laura Dern), but he cannot keep it under wraps forever, especially once he starts evicting people who never had a chance to pay back their loans.
99 Homes is certainly an angry movie, taking infuriated aim at the entire system of real estate and banks that helped make the sub-prime bubble that was a prime cause of the 2008 financial crash. The ploys and scams shown in the film are all apparently real, based on extensive research into how the dice were loaded against those who took out many of the loans, and that it was not just a case of irresponsible people failing to pay back money because of their own stupidity or bad luck.
Andrew Garfield is good in the central role, playing an everyman lured by the promise of easy money. However, he does have a few issues, as it’s difficult to keep the audience’s sympathy playing someone who’s life is pulled apart by an eviction, who then decides to become part of the problem. Luckily Garfield just about manages it, thanks to a constantly pained, morally conflicted expression and the script ensuring that what he actually wants it fairly simple – his old house back.
Michael Shannon also does a great job as the oily Rick Carver. In other hands the character could easily have just been a scenery-chewing, moustache-twirling bad guy, as the film often seems intent on portraying him as the embodiment of pure evil (if the ending revealed he was literally Satan, it wouldn’t be too surprising), but Shannon manages to keep you watching and thinking he’s just about human.
It’s a damn good job the acting is strong, as the film is constantly in danger of feeling too didactic. In its anger it has a tendency to paint the world in black and white, ignoring inconvenient facts and glossing over issues that might make things seem more complex than it wants to admit they are. The moral intricacy only really comes in Nash’s conflicted attitude towards what he’s doing, but even there it’s largely in him knowing he probably shouldn’t, but doing it anyway. Despite its tendency towards presenting things is a rather simplistic fashion (despite often seeming complex), it’s still a good film.
Overall Verdict: 99 Homes isn’t a fun movie, but it is an interesting and often powerful one. While constantly in danger of seeming overly simplistic, thanks to some good acting and the power of its angers it pulls through to be an entertaining and rather furious film.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac