99 Homes movie review

Featuring: Andrew Garfield, Michael Shannon, Laura Dern
Director: Ramin Bahrani
Writers: Ramin Bahrani , Amir Naderi , Bahareh Azimi
Movie website: www.99homes.com.au/
Australian release date: Thu 19 Nov

Reviewer: rolanstein
Verdict: A gripping and well-performed drama on the ruthless opportunism and personal tragedy behind the scenes of America’s sub-prime foreclosure racket.

The hypocrisy, injustice and inhumanity of capitalism was never so starkly revealed as during the GFC, when the State used taxpayers’ money to protect greedy overreaching financial institutions from bankruptcy, while ignoring the plight of hundreds of thousands of working class strugglers duped into taking out unaffordable housing loans, then tossed out on to the streets when the banks foreclosed on them.

The trauma, violation and despair of forcible eviction is rammed home in 99 Homes, when hard-working blue-collar single father Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield) and his mother lose their home of many years, after misunderstanding a Court order. Answering a knock on the door from real estate vulture Rick Carver (Michael Shannon) accompanied by armed sheriff enforcers, the family is given minutes to grab personal effects and money. The locks are then changed and their house contents dumped on the front lawn as neighbours witness the humiliating repossession. It’s gutting stuff, hard to watch.

Nash has no choice but to seek shelter for his family at the nearest cheap motel, which is tenanted by other foreclosure victims and undesirables who can afford no better.

Desperate for money and a way to re-claim the family home, he accepts a proposal to work for Carver, and finds himself in a Faustian dilemma when he realises that he, too, can make big money from the misfortune of sub-prime victims like himself. However, there is a price to be paid that is not quantifiable in mere monetary terms, and he must decide whether he is prepared to pay it.

The filmmakers have done a good job of melding personal drama with a wider politically driven agenda of lifting the bonnet on a system that advantages the wealthy and disadvantages the poor. Carver is the ugly face of capitalist opportunism – perhaps a little too ugly to avoid caricature. Insidiously, though, as he makes clear in some cynically toned expositionary dialogue, his spectacularly successful bottom-feeding depends on a corrupt network of successful business types and others of respectable appearance and status, the feeding line extending to the Court, the banks, and ultimately the centre of political power itself. The hope that justice will prevail in the end is down to ordinary, decent folk like Nash having the courage to stick by their values, and where possible to blow the whistle rather than yield to the temptation to join the devil at his party table.

All a bit simplistic and black and white, then, but this is a movie driven by moral outrage, not a work of political philosophy. As such, it entertains through a gripping drama featuring some excellent performances, while rousing anger and outrage in the viewer at the workings of the insidious foreclosure racket and the suffering of its victims.

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