Wednesday, October 14, 2015

[Review] 99 Homes

Andrew Garfield and Michael Shannon star in this intense recession drama, which seriously turns out to be like the Scarface of real estate.

Set in Miami during the housing market collapse, Nash (Garfield) is a struggling construction worker, living with his mother (Laura Dern) and son. Nash and his son appear to be more like big brother and little brother instead of father and son, but that's beside the point. They're on the verge of getting evicted. Meanwhile, Carver (Shannon)--a realtor/banker/punisher is capitalizing by flipping foreclosed homes and employing some schemes that aren't 100% legitimate (but not 100% illegitimate, either). Carver eventually comes knocking on Nash's door, like a shark that smells blood or the devil dressed in all white. It's a difficult scene to watch, even though we realize it's the law.

But Carver notices a fire in Nash, and he offers him a job involving some not-so-routine maintenance and repair duties. Nash moves up the rankings, and pretty soon he's in the position of doing exactly what Carver initially did to him. The main conflict arises here. On one hand, Nash sympathizes with the recipients of eviction. On the other, he begins seeing the biggest checks of his life and he wants to get his family out of the crappy motel where they're staying.

The film is a series of harsh, but perversely engrossing scenes. The narrative refrains from getting too scoldingly preachy with its aim, even as Carver drops some ugly bombs of truth about winners & losers in America. But the film's morality tale doesn't lie within the actual idea of eviction or the plot to make a business off of other people's downfalls (just like how George Clooney's character in 2009's Oscar nominee Up in the Air made a living by firing people, or like how funeral services thrive off of death). The morality tale actually lies within the classic ills of greed and corruption of the system, as well as the repercussions, trickling effects, and cyclical nature of it all.

Andrew Garfield and Michael Shannon are both terrific here. Garfield convincingly plays an everyman caught between a rock and a hard place, bursting with emotional turmoil and desperation. Following his run as Spider-Man in the less-than-stellar reboot, it was almost forgotten how good he was in The Social Network, but he certainly reminds us of his chops here. And then there's the excellent, show-stealing Michael Shannon. Few people play the cold-hearted enforcer as well as him (I mean, he did star in a movie called The Iceman), especially considering his haunting cop-turned-gangster role in HBO's "Boardwalk Empire". In 99 Homes, he's chilling as this intimidating, stone-faced, crooked and complex mogul that seems to have been incarnated specifically just for him.

* 8.5/10 *

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