In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it.
“Don’t get emotional about real estate. They all got a sob story, but the law’s the law.” In an ice cold tone, Rich Carver (Michael Shannon) sums up the notion through which he justifies his day-to-day life. Carver is a former real estate agent who now works in evictions. Sure, it may not be the most pride-inducing job out there, kicking people out of homes they can no longer afford, but somebody has to do it, and Carver sees no problem in making a lot of money being that guy. Armed with a cell phone, e-cigarette, and an emotional distance (as well as a hand gun, at times), it is Carver’s job to knock on the doors of foreclosed houses to let the inhabitants know that it’s time to go. Right now. The way both Carver and his employers at the bank see it, the folks on the other side of the door are trespassers, and if they don’t leave immediately, it’s a form of stealing. It’s a truly depressing thing to watch, and doubles as a public embarrassment for those being evicted in front of their neighbors. But hey, the law is indeed the law, right?
During a routine eviction at the height of the real estate crisis (roughly 2010), Carver displaces the Nash family, headed by Dennis (Andrew Garfield). Dennis has been unsuccessful in paying for the house which he shares with his mother (Laura Dern) and young son (Noah Lomax). It’s clear right away that things have not always been easy for Nash, but the script smartly strays away from particulars. Garfield wears the beaten-down-yet-hopeful look well, and before long, his Nash finds reason to begin looking up. Through a string of small occurrences, Carver takes a liking to Nash, and eventually takes him on as a protege, training him first in the art of evictions, and then in the art of deflecting any guilt that may come as a result of his work. It’s that second lesson that never seems to gel with Nash, and therein lies the drama at the heart of 99 Homes.
Both Garfield and Shannon put on Oscar-caliber performances, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see either of them nominated for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, respectively. Moreover, I think Shannon could easily win, which would effectively clear out the bad taste left by having been snubbed for his equally stellar performance in 2011’s Take Shelter. His Rich Carver is a sort of modern day Gordon Gekko, only much more nuanced – we can almost understand where he’s coming from, and could, in some type of way, justify his actions, even if we don’t approve. Garfield, on the other hand, plays a softer character who, in turn, is much less fragile than a lot of his previous roles. Dennis Nash is not a pushover by any means, but his motivation is love, not money, no matter how much eventually begins to roll in. It should also be noted that Andrew Garfield hides his accent better than anyone in showbiz, including Gary Oldman.
The film is not a pleasant one to watch, but it is absolutely electrifying on all fronts. Ramin Bahrani directs what is essentially a melodramatic talker with an urgency befitting of its subject matter. The eviction sequences are shot in a handheld style which captures the freneticism of an unexpected eviction without stepping into the incoherence of “shaky-cam.” Otherwise, the film takes a more soap operatic approach to both visuals and performances, resulting in a less than glamorous look for Orlando, and a thankless but brutally upsetting task for the side characters. I felt pretty sick throughout much of the film’s runtime, as was surely its intention.
There is a sense of dread which hangs over the entire film, as the audience is forced to look inward and ask, “What am I capable of when my back is against the wall?” 99 Homesstrongly asserts that for most of us the answer is, “I just don’t know.”
99 Homes opens today in Philly area theaters.