Ramin Bahrani’s 99 Homes reminds us about the brutal laws of nature – the predator will always strike once the prey becomes vulnerable. Superbly acted by Michael Shannon and Andrew Garfield, ornamented with intimately vibrant soundtrack by Antony Partos and sustained within frames of an emotionally engaging storyline, 99 Homes is one of the best indie dramas of the last decade.
Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield) struggles to make ends meet – the bad omen arrives at his doorstep once a bank’s emissary Rick Carver (Michael Shannon) knocks on his door with an eviction from the court. Soon Nash, who’s looking for any job to provide for his family and buy out his family house, becomes Carver’s right hand, signing for a deal with the devil.
Financial crisis that hit U.S. was obviously the outcome of a progressively growing bubble, with American society reaching out to the luxury, that normally seemed out of the orbit for vast majorities. Yet, the protagonist of the film – Nash played by Andrew Garfield – is not the greedy individual, preying on the bank’s heavenly offers. Therefore, the starting point for Bahrani is a bit different than we could expect – Nash, pushed to the wall and thrown into the dangerous currents of financial markets, follows Carver, piece by piece selling his soul to the devil – the very same one that kicked him out of his own home and life. Bahrani is not looking for simple answers – he gives Carver his time to explain himself, to draw straight lines between his money-making scheme and how America allegedly forced him to throw people out of their homes. The dispute is open to the director and praise him for that – both of his main characters have their rights and commit their wrongs and it is up to us, which side shall we choose.
Bahrani’s 99 Homes is a sweet treat in terms of acting. Michael Shannon delivers a truly jaw-dropping performance, sinking his teeth deep in his character. Carver is a complex sketch, menacing and convincing, firmly making steps in the world of people losing their homes and lives – he is a predator among the weak. Garfield’s performance gives field to Shannon, but still remains credible and enjoyable. Nash is a man torn apart, waging a war against his own morality, but doing so in so-called good faith. 99 Homes also lets the young actor dig out from the grave that he meticulously prepped for himself by Amazing Spiderman franchise. Nevertheless, it’s Shannon, who quickly gains a towering position in the indie cinema, thus leads the film and carries its weight.
The gentle, pulsating, guitar-based score by Antony Partos fills in the gaps and truly matches the tone of Bahrani’s film too. It remains in the background, but subtly plays its own chords in drawing the film’s reality. On top of that comes the neatly cogitated plotline, relying on Nash’s transformation, where at some point, he blindly follows the premise of quickly-earned money displayed by Carver. What’s also important, the language of Bahrani’s drama avoids over-structured slang, which also helps to engage in the story (as opposed to some other financial dramas). All in all, 99 Homes is a very structured experience, where the entire orchestra knows the cinematic drill.
Somewhere in the middle of the screening, Michael Shannon spine-chillingly delivers the film-defining line: “America doesn’t bail out the losers. America was built by bailing out the winners, by rigging a nation of the winners for the winners by the winners“. And this is the saddest message conveyed by 99 Homes, at the same time being the most crushing element of the film’s content – America is fish tank, where only those like Carver will survive – the sharks. Or those, who are ready to sell their souls to survive.
UMP Grade: 42/50
(Cinematography: 8, Plot: 8.5, Acting: 9, Soundtrack: 8.5, Quaintness: 8)