99 Homes (2015)
Directed by Ramin Bahrani
Among the year’s most underappreciated films is “99 Homes,” which springs to life with a roaring ferocity that most thrillers never muster. But this isn’t a fantasy story. Here, the monster is a banker who drives a luxury SUV and puffs an e-cig. That’s Richard Carver (Michael Shannon), who specializes in foreclosures…and, consequently, evictions. “Richard,” like rich…or dick. And “Carver,” because he takes a knife to every family he throws out of their home. Note the word “home.” That’s important, too. They’re not houses, or even boxes, like Carver calls them. Home. That’s certainly what homebuilder Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield) thinks when Carver evicts him and his mother (Laura Dern) and son (Noah Lomax) from the one-story they’ve owned for twenty years. In an effort to buy back his home from the bank, Dennis sells his soul to the devil and becomes a rising star in Carver’s shady foreclosure biz. But dirty money leads to a slippery slope, and Dennis begins to let his financial dreams get the best of him as he puts families through the same life-shattering process he just went through.
The best dramatic films don’t rely on manufactured, heavily enhanced emotions. They tell stories naturally steeped in drama. “99 Homes” has this sense of heightened emotion that only comes when innocent families are evicted from their homes. That’s what makes “99 Homes” one of the year’s best thrillers. And the most likely to happen in the real world. The natural suspense and drama is aided by a magnificent, pulsing score. And by the nuanced performances from Shannon, Garfield, and Dern. Michael Shannon plays an everyday villain, a reasonably terrible guy. He’s made his career playing morally ambiguous characters we can’t wrap our minds around. When he’s on screen, you’re on edge. Making a remarkably smooth transition from Spider-Man to everyman is Garfield, who gives his best performance since “The Social Network”…and could even be better than that. He takes his career to the next level. And Laura Dern, coming off an Oscar nomination for “Wild,” gives us another mother character who only wants what’s best for her family. She’s at the top of her game.
“99 Homes” unmasks this nation’s exploitative and dishonest foreclosure practices. There’s no enemy of the state here. The enemy is the state. The eviction process is a breeding ground for a type of drama not often shown on the big screen. The script doesn’t rely on plot twists to drive the suspense. It builds it simply by letting the characters act naturally. Desperate times call for desperate measures. “99 Homes” is just there to capture the spectacle.