“99 Homes” is an angry movie. An examination of the personal cost of the 2010 real-estate collapse in Orlando, Florida, it bristles with rage at the fate of families thrown to the curb when banks foreclosed on their homes. It’s an ugly story and one that should serve as a cautionary tale.
Andrew Garfield is Dennis, a construction Jack of All Trades who borrowed $85,000 against the value of his home to start his own company. When the economy went south, so did his company. Soon Richard Carver (Michael Shannon) a predatory real estate flipper with a steely gaze and an electronic cigarette is at the door with an eviction notice. Within minutes Dennis, his son (Noah Lomax) and mother (Laura Dern) are homeless.
“I didn’t kick you out,” he says to Dennis as movers empty the house. “The bank did. I just represent them.”
With no job, no house and no prospects, Dennis makes a deal with the devil and begins assisting Carver with evictions and semi-legal wheeling and dealing. It’s a Faustian deal to be sure, but soon Dennis is able to see light at the end of the tunnel, and maybe even earn his house back.
“99 Homes” features a gut wrenching eviction scene that establishes the tone for the rest of the film. It’s the stuff they don’t show you on reality flip shows, the personal, tragic side of foreclosure.
It’s not a subtle film. Shannon is entertaining as always, but the only thing missing from his take on Carver are devil horns and a red cape. He’s more a metaphor than a character. He’s the personification of capitalism run wild; an amoral businessman who ruthlessly exploited predatory lending, unfair mortgage rates, bailed-out banks to make a fortune for himself. In his wake is a trail of destruction, foreclosed homes and destitute families. “You get numb to it,” he says.
Garfield goes along for the ride, at least until his guilt gets the best of him. His character has the best story and character arc, but it’s the sheer power of Shanon’s menace that we’re paying to see.
“99 Homes” asks many questions, most notably, What would you do to keep a roof over your head? The answer lies somewhere between the film’s moralizing and melodrama, serving as a cautionary tale of a terrible time in our recent history.