4 stars
“When you work for me, you're mine.”

If Michael Shannon (Freeheld) knows anything, it's how to create menace. As 99 Homes' estate agent Rick Carver, he's crafted an unforgettable monster that speaks to the demon in us all.
For Carver is high-flying, low-life, bottom-feeding scum making his fortune on the misery of the disenfranchised and soon to be homeless during the 'economic downturn'. Which is to say, he's a type of everyman, an avatar for corporate America and every self-serving person who seized a moment for themselves regardless of another’s wellbeing. And he's hardly alone. Making matters worse is the immorality of a business that, with the help of local police, quite literally tosses people on the street, seizes their homes and sells them for a profit. It's all perfectly legal. Thankfully he also engages in a little theft along the way, at least we can pin that on him.

This particularly redolent story begins when Carver comes for the home of Lynn Nash (Laura Dern - Wild). Despite the best efforts of her son Dennis (Andrew Garfield – Spiderman), they've fallen behind in the payments. Before you can say 'foreclosure' they're on the pavement with their belongings piled high and Carver has, kindly, given them 24 hours to tidy up the mess.

“You kick people out their homes?!”

This tough, gritty story by writer/director Ramin Bahrani picks up on themes explored in his earlier, less effective, tilt at the established order At Any Price. He's helped by an exemplary cast with Shannon, Garfield and Dern not missing a single beat. There's little confusion about their character's motives or beliefs, but they're much more complicated than an outline sketching where Carver = bad, Nash = noble, that sort of thing. In fact, such is the force of Shannon's performance that you almost start to sympathise with Carver's dreadful behaviour; he's just a guy doing his job... There's a touch of the cobra before it strikes.

“I didn't kick you out, the bank did.”

And strike he does for when Nash sets out to get retribution, he finds himself turned by Carver, becoming one of his closest and most loyal employees. He's doing it for the cash, and the cash is for his family. At least, that's what Nash tells himself even after he throws a former neighbour to the street, his moral compass having been reset by the allure of money, comfort and security.

Therein Bahrani's argument. Are you as morally sound as you tell yourself? Given the same set of circumstances, would you do as Nash did? For your family, your loved ones? What about buying $2 milk which is complicit in driving farmers out of work, for instance. How does that make you feel?

“America doesn't bail out losers”

99 Homes is a tough film, a muscular mix of social drama and political thriller that grabs you by both shoulders and attempts to shake the apathy out of you. He also tempts you with appealing ideological arguments that are both troublesome and provocative plus you get the added pleasure of watching three varied and gifted actors create something new from the pressure cooker they find themselves in. It's a punishing brew that, in all regards, is an absolute treat.


Previewed at The State Theatre, Sydney on 5 June 2015

Andrew Garfield
Michael Shannon
Laura Dern

Ramin Bahrani

Ramin Bahrani



112 minutes

November 19, 2015
99 Homes (2014) on IMDb
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