99 Homes (2015)


This is a superb and harrowing film not to be missed, another movie dramatizing a major chapter in the massive evil follow-through of the Great Recession–namely, the sub-prime mortgage crisis–that is a miraculous low budget parable of that disaster of greed fully as estimable as the mainstream The Big Short.

The Big Short dramatizes the low economics of shorting the mendacious and reckless banks in the Recession as well as of hoodwinking the foolish and complacent institutional investors in the deceptively packaged (“securitized”) huge assemblages of sub-primes.

99 Homes, set appropriately enough in Florida, dramatizes another terrible chapter of the Recession, the ruthless highly profitable exploitation by “bulk buyers” and big-time “flipper” realtors of masses of desperate foreclosed homeowners whose adjustable-rate mortgages (contracts which in the cruelest arena of judgment–one in which the virtually irresistible emotions of “home” can be acknowledged but sadly cannot be credited–the buyers should never have signed for) were eating them alive to the point of forced evictions on a huge scale.

99 Homes has ended up an indispensable movie because its laudable director and co-writer (with Amir Nardin), Rumin Bahrani, has created a most economical triumph (a low-budget coup) via a classic, elegant and never-failing storytelling frame and, in the course of giving us this invaluable and testing experience of cautionary wisdom, has discovered a spectacular actor, Michael Shannon, who, as the Lead Shark-Flipper appropriately named Rick Carver, has pulled off a fine portrayal of a complicated villain.

The invincible storytelling frame: The Innocent Victim eventually joins forces with his Heartless Predator, becomes A Fellow Sinner, and thereby dramatizes the Whole Story, Chapter One: The Con through Chapter N: The Resolution, closing with one of these Endings: Bitter Irony, Just Comeuppance, Big Surprise, Divine Intervention (out of vogue for the past several centuries) and I’ll leave it up to you to see the movie and discover which one. And so evicted construction worker, Rick Nash (Andrew Garfield), eventually becomes the ruthless right-hand aide to Rick Carver, and we viewers of 99 Homes learn all about this desperate saga of the Recession. Suffice to say: Bahrani tells his story through an unbroken series of absolutely gripping scenes.

And in a sign of superior storytelling, Bahrani mediates between the pressures from the situation itself–the disastrous Recession–and the proclivities of the darker angels of our human nature. Carver’s cruel and impersonal attitude shows a forced, bitter tinge that hints at some earlier victimization of himself. And certainly Nash’s odyssey is significantly owing to his situation, a situation beyond his sway. In short, the conversions the main figures experience are not simple matters.

Laura Dern is excellent as Rick Nash’s mother, and the supporting actors, especially the cops in the special squad established to carry out evictions in the tsunami of foreclosures post 2008, are most convincing. The eviction scenes are especially powerful and stamping.

To repeat: Don’t miss.