By Phillip Guy Ellis (Northampton, England)
Michael Shannon & Andrew Garfield
1 hr 52 minutes
Awards – 12 Wins & 23 Nominations
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In the 1970s, people who got mortgages and bought houses were the type of people who paid their mortgages up and treated that monthly bill the most important in their lives, and actually lived in the houses they were buying, and rarely defaulted, the so-called Triple As. By the 1980s more people had moved up in the world and so AABs were allowed to buy mortgages and so on. But by the late 1990s the banks were pretty much playing fast and loose with deregulated money by selling interest free mortgages and leveraging to nine or ten times the buyers salaries with up to 120% ‘cashback’ mortgages.
Banks and realtors were giving away money for huge commissions and didn’t care who bought the homes. Some people’s first homes in places like Florida and California had swimming pools! It got crazier still when Triple Bs were getting houses in the next millennium, the unemployed and low wage earners, to keep the commissions coming all the way up the ladder, the poor old Triple AAAs holding up the whole lot up and some. But the whole lot came tumbling down when Wall Street’s biggest banks had clearly over-extended themselves by loaning money five or six times over their loan book and that was that, the theme for the rather powerful film 99 Homes.
The movie stars the rather excellent and under-rated Michael Shannon alongside British actor Andrew ‘Spiderman’ Garfield. Both are really good here and deserved Oscar nominations. It’s from little known director Ramin Bahrani. America doesn’t suffer fools or the poor and when you fall off the edge you keep falling, no welfare safety net to bounce you back up in the US of A.
• Andrew Garfield… as Dennis Nash
• Michael Shannon…. as Rick Carver
• Laura Dern…. as Lynn Nash
• Tim Guinee… as Frank Greene
• Noah Lomax… as Connor Nash
• Clancy Brow…n as Mr. Freeman
• Cynthia Santiago… as Mrs. Greene
• Manu Narayan…. as Khanna
• Cullen Moss as… Bill
• Nadiyah Skyy as…. Tamika
Post 2008 and the US housing crisis is beginning to bite alongside recession and foreclosures are rising. Young Builder Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield) has suffered as house building has also collapsed from lack of demand and his crew laid off. He lives back in mom’s family home with his young son Conner (Noah Lomax) after his marriage broke up a while back. But the recession is about to get them too as one more missed paycheck is the third strike on their mortgage payments and the cops are here with the banks go-between, realtor Rick Carver (Michael Shannon), to foreclose and take back the house for the bank. They argue hard but soon on the pavement with most of their possessions. Carver is ruthlessly efficient at a job he reluctantly enjoys but makes him a lot of money in the process through sharp practice. Banks want the people out as quickly as possible so not to wreck their lost investments and pay Carver well to do exactly that.
The Nash family moves to a cheap motel to take stock and look at their options. It’s a stressful time. After a bust up in the car park over some stolen tools, Carver likes the cut of Dennis’s jib and offers him some cash-in-hand work clearing other reposed houses. Desperate, he begrudgingly agrees and soon working as house clearers, but wining back his young son’s confidence in dad. Carver gives Nash the pep talk on who is really being screwed here and soon getting down and dirty on the ground with Carver.
Carver: Don’t be soft. Do you think America give a flying rat’s ass about you or me? America doesn’t bail out the losers. America was built by bailing out winners. By rigging a nation of the winners, for the winners, by the winners.
Nash impresses Carver and the often brutal realtor soon teaching the kid the tricks of the trade, like repossessing kit from empty houses and using to it to fit out houses coming back on to the market and bagging the mark up. He also lets Dennis employ some of his builder mates into the gang by pushing ‘cash for keys’ payouts on houseowners who are to be evicted, the idea being the $3500 cash payments smooth the eviction of those who knew they had lost the battle. Neighbor Frank Green (Tim Guinee) is one of those on the edge and determined to keep his house.
Carver thinks the kid is ready to suit up and do the evicting face-to-face, which he reluctantly does, hard but fair as evictions accelerate across the city. Dennis is now earning decent money but still in the motel as he tries to buy back moms house with that money. The irony is he is making money off other people like him and beginning to enjoy that perverse gain. The question is will his morals get the best of him in the end?
Carver: Do you read the bible kid?
Nash: I have done.
Carver: Only one in a hundred’s going to get on that ark, son. Every other pour soul’s going to drown.
For its $8.9 million budget this made just $1.9m back, appalling figures for such a good movie. Although a morality tale at heart there are far more lessons to be learnt here as Shannon and Garfield put in cracking performances, Garfield the conscious of America, Shannon, the veracious greed. The foreboding Shannon is often type cast as the villain in most of his movies but this tour-de-force right up there with Michal Douglas in Wall Street. This is no Wall Street, of course, or, indeed, Glengarry Glen Ross but decent all the same. I really enjoyed it and a surprisingly tough watch.
It’s played out in reverse, morality wise, the honest builders of those homes and the solid mortgage payer, corrupted by the house slayer. In fact it works on many levels and like Margin Call, another recent film on the housing collapse, tense and foreboding as families lives fall apart and there but the grace of God go I. In America you can’t just go down the dole and get re-housed and you are out on the street and in serious jeopardy. It’s why they have great cities of mobile homes out in the sticks. It’s why one-in-three of those 33,000 gun deaths a year in America are suicides. The film really nails that worry and horror of that situation of losing your home.
It’s tense throughout from the powerful opening of a decent white middle class family been thrown on the street to the ones in fear next on the list, the knock at the door like the moment a soldier comes to tell a mother her son has been killed in war. As I say they are ruthless over there, in selling things to people who can’t afford them and ripping them back.
IMDb.com –7.1/10.0 (22,543votes)
Rottentomatos.com – 92% critic’s approval
Metacritic.com – 71% critic’s approval
New Yorker –’A simplistic but stirring morality play centered on the pressure point of the savings-and-loan crisis’.
NZ Herald – ‘Dynamic and passionate, thrumming with barely suppressed anger, this sleek American indie has the brains of a documentary, the soul of a moral fable and the beating pulse of a thriller’.
Toronto Star – ‘Michael Shannon and Andrew Garfield make for an incendiary combo, as a predatory realtor and his desperate protégé.’
The Newyorker – ‘For all that real estate doesn’t seem to be a particularly zippy topic, 99 Homes plays out like a moral thriller, with the stakes constantly ratcheting higher and higher’.
The Mail – ’99 Homes is a movie about how we live now, a thriller for grown-ups about everyday life and the social pecking order. Not for the faint of heart, mind you.’
Financial Times – ‘Bahrani’s latest film, 99 Homes, an examination of the crisis in bank foreclosures and repossessed homes in the guise of a thriller, is his best yet, largely because of a dynamite performance by co-star Michael Shannon.’
Chicago Sun Times – ‘It’s still an easy recommendation, with director and co-writer Ramin Bahrani delivering a provocative, visceral, sometimes heartbreakingly relevant drama/thriller.’