Shannon and Garfield Electrify In Indie Drama “99 Homes”

By Scott Kurland

Film: 99 Homes
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Michael Shannon, Laura Dern, and Clancy Brown
Rated R
Director: Ramin Bahrani 

Some directors just get it. They know good storytelling, or I should say ‘what makes good storytelling possible’. They understand that some stories don’t always have a happy ending. Sometimes you have to go down the rabbit hole before you can know where you’re going. Ramin Bahrani is a master at making films like this. Here’s a little back story on Ramin. In 2000 he made his debut with a film called “Strangers”. In 2005 he made another film called “Man Push Cart” which caught the eye of film critic Roger Ebert. From there Bahrani was a critically acclaimed director. Not only did Ebert like him, Leonard Maltin, Michael Phillips, and yours truly liked Bahrani. His last movie “At Any Price” was kind of a let down, however this week’s film “99 Homes” is his triumphant return to the screen. Let’s see how good it really is shall we?

“99 Homes” is the stories of Rich Carver (Michael Shannon) and Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield). Carver is a real estate agent who practices in collecting foreclosed homes and flipping them for a profit. Not only does he foreclose the homes, he evicts the tenants living in those houses as well. One of those people is Dennis. Dennis wants nothing more then to get his family home back. However, Rich hires Dennis; and has bigger plans for what Dennis can become. Rich teaches Dennis what he does and how he does it. He then offers Dennis a chance to become successful just like him. Will Dennis go against all his morals and become just like Rich? Or is there still some humanity left in him?

Bahrani is back to his roots with “99 Homes”. This feels like his earlier films and he really knows how to paint a vivid picture. Bahrani opens with a crime scene and that let’s you know one thing. This isn’t going to be a simple real estate mogul story. I was terrified by this film; because it does what a good drama is supposed to do. It educates the audience on a real problem happening in the world we live in. Not only do we learn how banks operate, and trust me when I say it isn’t pretty. Bahrani also takes us into the mind of a corrupt Florida legal system that allows real estate firms to gain homes at any means necessary. 

What jumped out to me most was the cinematography. This is a drab film, and it’s also completely handheld so we get a shaky and uneasy feeling at crucial moments. Bobby Bukowski captures that cinema verite style and that’s what really brings this film to life. “99 Homes” almost feels like a documentary, if Michael Shannon and Andrew Garfield weren’t the leads I’d think these people were real. I will say that I had to remind myself a few times that this was a film. That alone is how I know I’m watching a great film.

I can’t decide who the better actor in this film is, Shannon, Garfield, or Dern. These are three powerful performances from three stellar actors. Dern is on a hot streak, if you remember last year she was nominated for her performance in “Wild”. Lynn Nash is very similar to her role in “Wild”, and I love her chemistry with Garfield. Even though they were mother and son; they really sell the hell out of their relationship. At times you forget they’re mother and son. The arguments they have are very much like that of a married couple facing legal debt.

As great as Dern is, Shannon and Garfield are the two power houses going head to head for screen time glory. Garfield has the biggest transformation of the two actors, but his performance wouldn’t be as brilliant without Shannon’s subtle aggression. Shannon is the type of actor who can intimidate you with a simple glance. That’s kind of fitting, because Garfield is the type of actor who can break your heart with a tortured looked. If I could see these two work together again in the near future I’d be ecstatic. Shannon owns every frame of this film, and Garfield is not too far behind following suit.

“99 Homes” is a terrific and incredibly depressing film. It might be this year’s “Whiplash”, taking a basic idea and turning it into a complex film. This isn’t a perfect film. There are some flaws, and the ending is wrapped up too neatly. However, I can look past that and see this movie for what it is, a pulse pounding dramatic thriller. “99 Homes” is expanding this week; and will be getting a wider release in the months to come. Keep an eye out for it, and see this movie.

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