sat 25/05/2024

DVD: 99 Homes | reviews, news & interviews

DVD: 99 Homes

DVD: 99 Homes

Visceral anger at social process drives powerful state-of-the-US film

Driven out: Andrew Garfield fights, as mastermind Michael Shannon looks on

The opening scene of Ramin Bahrani’s 99 Homes plunges us into the darker depths of American society, post-2008 financial crisis. We’re in the world of home repossessions, and the blood spattered around the bathroom of one property by an ex-owner who wouldn’t go quietly speaks chillingly for what is in store.

Bahrani’s title hints at wider issues, principally the 99/1 wealth distribution inequality that was a slogan of the Occupy movement, and his film shows how that process is consolidated in practice. We first encounter single father Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield) as he attends a court hearing to contest an eviction. It’s a rote procedure – the hearing lasts seconds – and proves fruitless: the next step, a visit from the police to throw Nash and his family out of their Orlando home, follows with terrible inevitability.

 The director has left us in no doubt about where he stands

The officers of the law are only backing up broker Rick Carver (Michael Shannon), who’s acting for the banks (or whatever other financial structures are involved). For Carver it’s a rote procedure too, rehearsed almost down to the last line: the point here is not the number of homes concerned, 99 or otherwise, but the inexorability of the process. This smooth operator, coolly smoking his e-cigarette, has no concern for the lives of those being evicted – for him, these aren’t homes as such: “They’re boxes. Big boxes, small boxes. What matters is how many you’ve got.”

Their belongings stacked on the lawn, the next step for Nash is a motel where a depressingly large number of the neighbours are similar “evicteds”. A construction worker who's down on his luck – his trade being to build just this kind of dwelling – he’s accompanied by his mother Lynn (Laura Dern, powerful as always) and young son. His desperation to find a job throws him back into Carver’s orbit; ready to take on anything, he recommends himself when he volunteers to fix one home abandoned by its owners who have backed up the sewage. It's a grotesque scene, and they’ve made their feelings more than clear (Garfield, pictured below).

Nash knows that he’s entering something of a pact with the devil, but the ever-increasing flow of cash – Carver has another lucrative, below-board line in recycling household fixtures and double-claiming on them – proves remorselessly persuasive. He’s soon enforcing the same kind of process which he had so recently experienced from the other side. The unlikely dynamics between the slick Carver (Shannon looks not unlike a slightly earlier-vintage Martin Amis) and his world of potentially big-buck deals, and the hungry, driven Nash – Garfield was Mark Zuckerberg’s erstwhile pal Eduardo back in The Social Network, and has more recently hit big time in Spider costume – is chilling.

Bahrani skillfully steers his story towards a perhaps slightly pre-ordained conclusion in which Garfield’s character is finally compelled to define his loyalties. It’s a scene of hyperventilating tension, backed up by an electro-throb score which has already been pretty relentless through the film. The director has made his filmic position clear too, stressing the social drama and avoiding other elements – Nash’s romantic life, or lack thereof, remains untouched – that could have easily softened the story. No extras on this DVD release, which is a shame, because although the director has left us in no doubt about where he stands, some element of elaborating context would not have gone amiss.

He’s soon enforcing the same kind of process which he had so recently experienced from the other side


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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