If you’re like me, there is nothing more thrilling than a glass of red wine and an episode of House Hunters. The show simply follows someone as they pick out their next home and while the formula is predictable, it does not make the show any less addicting. There is something about getting a peek into someone else’s living situation — it satisfies a natural curiosity. “99 Homes”, a film written and directed by Ramin Bahrani, is the exact opposite of a comforting episode of House Hunters. It is an exploration of the much darker sides of home ownership and the realities of the real estate business.
The film’s tone is immediately set as we meet Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield) and his son as they fight their forthcoming eviction in a local courtroom. Dennis is unwilling to accept that the house he grew up in- the house his son is now growing up in- can be taken from them. He pleads with the judge, but to know avail. He has 30 days to appeal the court’s foreclosure of the property, but it’s done — they have lost their home. The music for this scene is heart-pounding, a deep bass that signals this is just the beginning of the troubles Dennis and his family are about to face.
Dennis and his family (which includes his son and mother, played by Laura Dern) are evicted from their home the next day, by Rick Carver (Michael Shannon) — a cold-hearted real estate broker whose only bit of sympathy for those he is evicting comes in the form of the two minutes he grants the families to gather any possession that they don’t want thrown out on the curb. Rick is evil personified. He has gotten rich off the backs of those far less fortunate and by working the housing crisis caused by the recession to his advantage. He is savvy in all the wrong ways and Shannon turns the Miami-vice clad monster into a multi-dimensional villain that you’ll hate, but secretly understand.
The movie truly takes off when Rick recognizes in Dennis an entrepreneurial spirit that can be used to his advantage. Rick takes Dennis on as his assistant, teaching him the how to run a real estate business through shady deals and bank foreclosures. Dennis, who walks a fine line between hopeless and hopeful, makes the perfect errand boy for Rick — Dennis needs the money and Rick needs someone who is just desperate enough not to ask questions. As their predator-prey relationship plays out, Dennis becomes someone he and his family thought he would never become. His decision to take a walk on the dark sideeventually comes to head leaving Dennis, Rick and the audience to wonder — was it worth it?
The brilliance of “99 Homes” comes from the context of the film. It’s not an original story, but the context of the housing crisis feels like uncharted territory. There is something so sacred about the home: it is a comforting space (unless of course you’re in a horror movie). “99 Homes” removes all the feel-good amenities of domestic life and exposes several sides of the white picket fence that haven’t really been given this level of dramatic treatment. It’s fresh and thrilling, despite the somber subject matter. Well worth the watch!