Everyone is to blame in this well-told tale of misery

Everyone is to blame in this well-told tale of misery

‘99 Homes’

Starring: Andrew Garfield, Michael Shannon

Directed by: Ramin Bahrani

Rated: PG-13


You won’t find many movies willing to tackle the tough topic of the financial meltdown in 2008. J.C. Chandor’s 2011 movie “Margin Call” is one, but its perspective is Wall Street-centric. This new movie from Ramin Bahrani is set in 2010 in Orlando, one of the hardest hit areas after the banking industry’s sub-prime loan disaster began to ripple out. The repercussions followed a sad pattern of home foreclosures that sent families packing with nowhere to go.

This fate has come to Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield), a single dad and construction worker trying to hold onto the family home where he lives with his mother, Linda (Laura Dern), and his son, Connor (Noah Lomax). The knock on the door is from Rick Carver (Michael Shannon), a slimy real estate agent who informs him the bank now owns the house and the Nashes are, in fact, trespassing and must quickly gather their things and leave immediately.

It’s humiliating to watch, and it plays out many times during the movie without getting any easier as Carver, and soon Dennis, his new protégé, prospers from this nightmare. Rick sees something in Dennis he likes, and at first Dennis is desperate enough to take the piecemeal repair work Carver gives him. Soon Carver has draw him in to his inner circle, trusting Dennis enough to teach him more underhanded tricks of his trade like stealing the AC units and pool pumps from the houses they’ve just repossessed so they can bill the government for the replacements.

Garfield, sans the Spider-Man costume he’s been wearing of late, seems an unlikely choice to play a blue collar worker, but his natural sensitivity gives him the edge in revealing how conflicted Dennis is in his new career. The guilt has even driven him not reveal to his mother and son the identity of his employer. But the irony is hard to ignore as he evicts family after family while he is currently residing in a rundown motel where some of these families will also end up.

As good as Garfield, a quirky actor Shannon seems born to play Rick Carver. You want to hate him for his callousness and lack of remorse, but there is a grudging admiration for the way he has managed to capitalize on a lot of folks’ misery. Shannon, with his hooded eyes and cruel smile, imparts an undercurrent of volatile unpredictability that makes Rick somewhat unknowable. And as the story moves forward, this only adds to the increasing tension between him and Dennis.

While there is a certain predictable nature to the story Bahrani has written, his direction shows a creative assuredness that brings needed balance. It’s heartbreaking to see people begging not to be put out of their homes. But then Rick snidely reminds some of them that no one forced them to take out a second mortgage for frivolous home improvements. Cold? Yes, but with a ring of truth.

This movie deals in a lot of truths, however ugly they may be. It’s a harsh, cautionary tale that personalizes the result of inept greed and bad business.