TIFF 2014 Review: 99 Homes
The foreclosure crisis gets a highly dramatized, personal story that will mean lots of different things to lots of different people. For some, it’s a thrilling, tense adventure following a rather standard narrative arc that contains some familiar conceits.
For others, it’s an engaging drama powered by two actors that immediately inhabit two contending characters: the sympathetic blue collar patriarch (Andrew Garfield) and the rapacious businessman (Michael Shannon). The added potency of 99 Homes is too that it’s a chilling tale of a socio-economic disaster that scoured the United States and is still claiming lives, a representative tale of the plight of many.
Thus, Ramin Bahrani’s feature, which he also wrote, is winning tale even when it follows some conventional, albeit successful tactics.
In an incredibly unnerving opening, Garfield’s Dennis Nash finds his longtime home, occupied by his hairstylist mother (Laura Dern) and young, motherless son, taken up by the bank. The eviction is emotionally draining and uncomfortable, as the Nash clan are given but two minutes to grab belongings as the rest is taken out to the lawn in what is ostensibly a joint raid by the police and a slimy, e-cigarette smoking realtor.
Shannon once again proves remarkable as the villain, but unlike some of his past nefarious incarnations, this one has an initial cartoonish side that gives away to a more nuanced man. That is not to say that he’s likeable, but when he offers handyman Nash an opportunity to use his construction skills to help fix and flip houses, he shows that he is simply a man who knows how to use the system instead of being used by it.
Instead of wallowing in melodrama, 99 Homes has a lot of say about the systemic problems that led to the housing crisis, giving the situation a pair of opposing faces that in fact aren’t as different as they seem. A couple narrative conveniences serve a larger point, and a climax presents itself that can go in many different directions.