99 Homes

By: Kevin Jordan

…to evict people from.  99 Homes on the block.  Evict them now.  Move to the next.  98 Homes to evict people from.

Poster Art

Is it okay that I’m being glib about a movie containing realistic depictions of people being evicted from their homes?  On the one hand, it’s really sad and depressing to watch people go through that.  On the other hand, it’s just a movie.  Well, you know what they say – when life gives you lemons, punch life in the throat for giving you the worst fruit you can think of.  At least, that’s the lesson Rick Carver (Michael Shannon) tries to impart on Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield) in 99 Homes.

In all seriousness, eviction is something that I (and nearly every other homeowner) worry about.  Nothing so drastic as keeping me up at night – I’m fortunate enough to have a steady income and a wife with a steady income as well, but there’s an occasional tickle every now and then where I can’t help but think of the worst case scenario.  This movie brings life to that tickle and it doesn’t discriminate between race or social class in showing us who gets evicted.  I wouldn’t call it a horror movie, but it does more to induce nightmares than most typical horror flicks do.

(Mild SPOILERS ahead.)

Dennis Nash is a construction worker who lives with his son, Connor (Noah Lomax), and mother, Lynn (Laura Dern) and Dennis is struggling to pay the bills and keep up with the house mortgage.  When his current job abruptly ends, he is unable to find more work and finds himself in court, desperate to keep the bank from foreclosing and evicting his family.  Obviously, he fails and finds himself and family ousted from their home by the Orlando police and real estate agent, Rick Carver.  Carver’s business model is representing the banks who own the loans, executing the evictions, and flipping the houses for a profit.  Quickly thereafter, Dennis finds himself working for Rick, whom Dennis essentially wanted dead just a day earlier.  Carver sees someone he can manipulate in Dennis, but also sees in him someone that can increase Carver’s profits.  Dennis gets a crash course in Carver’s operations and soon finds himself as the guy everybody, including himself, hates – the repo man.

While this movie doesn’t steers away from over-dramatizing the eviction run-ins, it does a fantastic job of displaying a few different scenarios.  There are deadbeats, there are defeated families, there are rational people, there are old people verging on Alzheimer’s, there are people who threaten violence, and there are people who sabotage the house prior to leaving (this particular scene is so good you can almost smell what they did – that’s all I’ll say).  But all of them have one thing in common – they all just need a little more time and the desperation is palpable.  After about five minutes of this (and that’s just the beginning), I was more uncomfortable than a scientist in a room full of creationists.  And it wasn’t just because of the situations; it was because Michael Shannon was awesome.

Besides his legitimate business practices, Carver is fully engaged in questionable/illegal activities to keep him ahead in the real estate game.  Among his shady practices, he has figured out ways to scam Fannie Mae out of money in the form of reimbursements (he steals appliances from the homes, gets reimbursed for new appliances, then just reinstalls the stolen ones) and is constantly driving around looking for signs of distressed homeowners so he can expedite their evictions.  Shannon delivers one of the sleaziest characters on screen since Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler and a much more frightening character than his General Zod in Man of Steel.

Speaking of bad superhero movies, Garfield also redeems himself after the dismal Amazing Spider-Man movies (despite what some people say, he was not a good Spider-Man).  Unlike in those past films, Garfield is given good writing and asked to actually, you know, act.  Throughout the film, Dennis is visibly disturbed by what he is doing to take care of his family.  It’s a little like the way Walter White started out before he saw nothing but dollar signs, but without all the murder and meth.  Dennis can’t sleep at night, he’s looking over his shoulder, and doing everything he can to not feel emotions for the evictees, all while Carver is molding him into a version of Carver himself.  Garfield does such a good job of emoting that you end up feeling the same emotions as him, right up until the credits role.

The best thing about this movie is that it doesn’t take a hard political line on the topic.  In fact, it does a really good job of balancing between people who sympathize with evictees and don’t think they should lose their homes and people who say “tough shit – that is the consequence of borrowing and not paying back” (comment trolls would call them liberal democrats and conservative republicans, respectively – or something much less respectful).  The scene that really hits this dichotomy home is in one of the lessons Carver is bestowing on Dennis in which Carver simultaneously rants against the homeowners for doing stupid things like financing enclosed patios and borrowing too much money and the banks for doing stupid things like loaning money to those people and other people who can’t possibly pay it back.

While I think this was a very good movie with two fantastic performances from Garfield and Shannon, I will never watch this movie again.  That’s not a backhanded compliment or me being glib again – that’s just how uncomfortable this movie made me.  Like American History X and Requiem for a Dream, it’s on my list of movies that I would recommend everybody sit through only once…because that amount of cringing in one showing is enough for ten.

Rating: Don’t ask for any money back and try to get a good night’s sleep.