99 Homes presents an excellent picture of what came down for thousands of homeowners during the meltdown. As with most crises, there are always the few standing in line to take advantage of it. Rick Carver (Shannon) explains it very well at several points; better that others (who are dumb, overextended, not smart about money and opportunity, or simply have bad luck) take the fall. He is not going to be taken advantage of and keeps a watchful eye and calculating mind read on every situation he encounters. “Don’t get emotional about real estate”, he advises, “they’re just boxes.”
Dennis Nash (Garfield) is one of the unfortunates whose work is in construction in Florida. He works hard and is totally committed to supporting his mother (Dern) and his son. He’s an example of someone rather naïve about the world who gets pushed to a desperate point, but has no experience or training in analyzing a situation from an ethical or legal standpoint. He’s also typical of a male who wants to do better than his father, and doesn’t want to discuss his plans or his business with those he feels responsible for (always a mistake). When Carver appears with a safety net and fatherly mien (he says “son” when he is giving Nash advice), Dennis is quick to trust and take a “hope for the best” approach, with the golden aura of money clouding his judgment. What he doesn’t count on is a landslide of guilt that will set in, especially when his mother begins to grasp what his “business” is.
The Rick Carver character exemplifies someone who is able to use spurious reasoning to justify his actions without much regard for others or ethical/moral considerations. Just the opposite of Nash, he is entirely self-serving, although he can mouth caring words in tense situations. To the uninformed, he might sound reasonable, and although a discerning person would see the flaws, most people don’t.
Both Garfield and Shannon do a masterful rendition of their characters. When they’re together in a scene, some kind of ineffable connection is almost palpable. When he hires Nash, Carver bluntly says, “When you work for me, you’re mine.” But there are traits of Nash that Carver misses.
Director Ramin Bahrani is a sensitive socially aware filmmaker who, with his co-writers Amir Naderi and Bahareh Azimi, gives us a dynamic, humane picture of what it was like for families undergoing foreclosure of their homes.
For a person with ethical principles this film will be hard to watch because it shows family after family begging to keep their homes for very good reasons but still being evicted within minutes of the sheriff’s knock on the door. It’s likely you’ll say, “What would that have been like if it happened to me?!” It must have been so awful, and it shows us how being a part of that travesty gnawed at Nash.
The film has another contribution, which is showing how those higher up on the food chain remain unscathed. Although they are the ones manipulating the whole system, they are not held accountable. Maybe the filmmakers had a reason for making the ending ambiguous; I’m not sure, and am not sure whether that is a weakness or a strength of the film.
I wish 99 Homes would be shown in money management courses in high school, college, and continuing education courses.
Grade: A- By Donna R. Copeland