Imagine being told you could no longer stay in your home. The place you've lived for years, perhaps your entire life. Despite your best efforts, you have seconds to vacate and leave most of your worldly possessions behind. Worse still, you have to find somewhere else to live with no money and no job, with employment opportunities more scarce than they have been in decades. This was the reality for many families in the U.S. during the global financial crisis - and yet as if that wasn't hard enough, some of the immoral and even illegal tactics used to make money off these people's misfortunes is nothing short of appalling - all the subject of the film '99 Homes'.
Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield) is one of those people evicted from his home. The man responsible for almost literally pushing him out the door, Rick Carver (Michael Shannon), offers him work, and Dennis isn't in a position to say no. Seeing his exceptional work ethic, Rick takes him under his wing and grooms him to be his right-hand man - but can Dennis stand the pressure of the job, the moral conflict, and the disapproval of his family?
'99 HOMES' TRAILER
Firstly, it's important to convey the kind of film this is. Although it's not a documentary, it does reveal a lot of unpleasant occurrences which happened during this time; the opening shot alone sets up everything you need to know about the tough times people faced. This film is formatted more like a thriller than anything, with a deep tension running like a cavernous abyss for the duration of the film. Director and co-writer Ramin Bahrani has created a time capsule in which lines are blurred and atrocities against fellow human beings are commonplace. Though the intricacies of the deals plotted may be somewhat convoluted as government rorts and financial swindlings emerge, you never lose the very personal and, ultimately, very devastating element of this story.
That's largely thanks to an absolutely terrific cast. I don't we've ever seen Andrew Garfield like this before, with such an adult and nuanced performance. To sympathise with a man as you follow his journey, whilst still knowing in the back of your mind what he's doing is wrong shows the kind of character he has constructed. Likewise, Michael Shannon's Rick is just as human - though single-minded and unforgiving, we still see moments of conflict from him; on the scale of black to white, he's a very dark grey. These two leads are supported by Laura Dern and Noah Lomax as Dennis' mother and son respectively. Without the emotion delivered by this family ensemble, the film would have fallen flat on its face.
This film is formatted more like a thriller than anything, with a deep tension running like a cavernous abyss for the duration of the film.
'99 Homes' is the reason why cinema exists. It reveals unspeakable acts, documents an imperative moment in time, and most importantly, it entertains the audience. What could have been an extremely dry concept is masterfully handled and crafted into an unforgettable event. Best yet, it doesn't judge - it simply prevents the events as they unfold. Perhaps, because like life itself, the reality isn't black and white, everyone should share part of the blame, in a situation where it's every man for himself. Perhaps human nature is simply quite comfortable with a very dark shade of grey.