99 Homes full movie review - One of the saddest, yet greatest, films of the decade
Ramin Bahrani's 99 Homes is the kind of film I foresee having the ability to resonate a bit too much with people who have been in the situation of Andrew Garfield's Dennis Nash character, who has lost his family home - and dignity - in a matter of minutes.
It's the kind of film to inspire empathetic tears from those who have been in the tragic situation, which often is the result of poor circumstance beyond somebody's control, of losing everything in a matter of moments.
The film revolves around Dennis, a single father who, along with his mother (Laura Dern) and his son Connor (Noah Lomax), is evicted from his home by a ruthless Realtor named Rick Carver (Michael Shannon). In that home, Dennis helped raise his son and his mother worked as a beautician out of her small office in the home, and all of that was taken away from them in the blink of an eye, when Carver, his goons, and the local deputies knocked on the door and gave them two minutes to pack all necessary belongings. After moving to a housing complex that houses many evicted families, Dennis is offered paltry cash from Carver for handyman work around his homes.
Dennis works his way up with Carver as a mentor, going from backbreaking labor to illegal and deceptive practices, such as stealing working appliances from homes purchased from rival clients and selling them back upon companies finding the properties have been damaged. Dennis does this all under the nose of his mother and son, who see Dennis's cash flow increase from a couple hundred bucks to a few thousand in a short period of time on the belief that he is working construction.
Bahrani, who also co-wrote the film with Amir Naderi, is sure to immerse us in both the contrasting lifestyles in the film. He allows us to see Dennis embrace the life Carver has in store for him, which includes extensive kickbacks and amazing opportunities at advancement. However, before we become too entranced with the glamour and the expensive champagne provided by this lifestyle, Bahrani is quick to show us the far more prominent alternative, which is the one Dennis is living with his mother and son. It's a life of food scarcity, stockpiled bills, unresponsive lawyers, little opportunity, and, above all, constant fear of security and dependable housing.
Garfield gives his most elaborate, conflicted, and heartbreaking performance yet, portraying a man torn between integrity and doing what is beneficial for his mother and son in the momentary. He showcases strong, natural talent, being a consistently believable man that simply wants to do right by so many people, including himself, that he finds himself running in circles, checking his ethics at the door in favor of what helps him and his family in the moment - before you knock or criticize his decisions, consider if you were in the same situation and how you would likely do the same thing.
Then there's Michael Shannon, an actor I've long-hailed as one of the finest American actors working today and one of the most charismatic and daunting screen presences to come out of Hollywood in years. Alongside his troubled, surmounting performance in the under-seen Take Shelter, 99 Homes serves as his best work. Shannon is frightening here, charismatic and suave in some instances, but entirely brutal and unforgiving in others. He has a demanding vocal-tone, only emphasized by his occasional cackles, recurring raspy edge in his dialect, and a scowl that shakes one to the core, and his slanted eyes, locked-jaw, and firmly decided mannerisms and decisions make you feel like you're nothing but a piece on his chessboard. He gives the year's best performance, in my book, performing a tricky balancing act of charisma and fear to the point where we have enough information on him to respect him or hate him for what he does. After all, he does epitomize the American Dream, a fact that is not lost on Bahrani.
As a film, 99 Homes pulsates with tension. It feels like its narrative is essentially operating on a field of landmines in the way that a small screw-up or delayed action by Dennis will cause Carver to spiral out of control and ruin his life even more, for he, for the whole film, has got him in a vice grip, or something will further make Dennis and his family fall a few notches down the ladder of social class. Bahrani is sure to keep the events realistic and never theatrical.
In its entirety, however, this is an absolutely devastating film, one of the saddest, yet greatest, I've seen of this decade. It's a film that shows the true horror and powerlessness that brews in a person when they lose their job and their home. The situation kickstarts a feeling of worthlessness, which is implied from the first scene, a longer take that includes numerous camera pans that show a man who has committed suicide in the house that Carver needs to put on the market. The American Dream has come with the ideas that a job, a home, and a well-maintained family are indications of success, beyond any kind of human deed or morality, and with that comes unfathomable feelings of uselessness when either of those are taken from a person.
99 Houses is a powerhouse film on all cylinders; an electrifying and brutally honest film about the "got mine, screw you" attitude America was founded upon and still abides by to this day. Andrew Garfield gives a heartbreaking performance and Michael Shannon better take the salary he earned for this film, buy mops, and clean house like a janitor at the Oscars next year.
Find the full, more elaborate review under "The Steve Pulaski Message Board" in the "External Reviews" section of IMDb.