From Charlie Sheen to Donald Trump, Americans seem obsessed with the concept of winning. The economic and social consequences of this competitive, winner-take-all ethos are at the heart of Ramin Bahrani’s “99 Homes”. Bahrani’s film seamlessly blends its critique of financial misfeasance within the story of a construction worker who accepts employment from the real estate broker who evicts him. The broker rationalizes the economic crisis of 2008 and its aftermath by stating, “America doesn’t bail out the losers. America was built by bailing out winners.”
Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield) is a construction worker in crisis. Work is hard to come by in Orlando and his home is in foreclosure. He goes to court, but his case is decided in 60 seconds. The following day, he is evicted from the home he shares with his mother and young son. Richard Carver (Michael Shannon), the cynical broker who is selling his home, offers him a job. Desperate, Nash accepts but hides the fact from his family. Nash gradually gets drawn into the scams and corruption that are rampant in Carver’s business.
Carver’s mantra is “don’t get emotional about real estate.” Everything in the film contradicts this statement, however. A person’s home is not just “a box”, as Carver refers to it. “99 Homes” opens with the disturbing image of a half-glimpsed body in a bathroom. It is a man who commits suicide rather than face eviction. There are numerous eviction scenes in the film and they are emotionally devastating. Bahrani captures the terror and disbelief of elderly persons and families who are given two minutes to gather their belongings and disappear.
Bahrani, who extensively researched his subject, directs a film that works on every level. “99 Homes” has a relentless momentum. The score, by “Animal Kingdom” composer Antony Partos and Matteo Zingales, heightens the tension inherent in every frame. The actors, including Laura Dern as Nash’s mother, are exceptional. Michael Shannon, as Carver, was nominated for both a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild Award.
Ownership is a central tenet of capitalism and one of the themes explored in “99 Homes”. Taken to extremes, people and property become interchangeable and equally disposable. As Carver tells Nash, “When you work for me, you’re mine.”
“99 Homes” was originally released in 2015. The film is rated R for profanity. Available on DVD and Amazon Video, I watched the film at my own expense.