Back to the business at hand, after a somber week of violet mourning. And I wish I had better things to report about writer/director Ramin Bahrini’s latest, “99 Homes”. It starts strong certainly, but I started to see the warning signs during its soggy middle portion, then it ends very poorly. It rapidly employs easy platitudes, while heading towards its convoluted finale. What happened to the talented, Mr Bahrani? Just a few years back, he knocked me out with his exceptional “Goodbye Solo”. For one thing I recall that one being very lean. There’s way too much fat on “99 Homes”. But the early pacing is strong…it’ll maintain you for a while.
Construction worker, single father Dennis Nash (a well-cast, Andrew Garfield), has difficulty maintaining steady work during the financial crisis–and then his Florida home is foreclosed. Torn from his family residence, along with his young son, Connor (Noah Lomax), and his mother, Lynn (the always effective, Laura Dern), Dennis feels hopeless and helpless, as he watches real estate operator, Rick Carver (a powerful Michael Shannon) perform his eviction, with the help of local police, and a selection of personal goons. Moving his loved ones into a threadbare motel complex, he finds it populated with many others suffering through similar situations. But a 2nd run-in with Carver, after a search for some missing tools, unexpectedly lands Dennis a job with the shady realtor. Before long, Dennis is Carver’s right-hand man, helping him perform other evictions, and in turn raking in a sizable cash flow, with the intention of winning back his lost house. However, shady increasingly becomes corrupt and criminal–and Dennis soon suffers pangs of morality.
It’s too bad that “99 Homes” gets over baked, because its earliest scenes are so well-executed, appropriately cringe-inducing, and unbearably tense. It starts losing that balance once we realize that Carver is going to be all seething evil, and Nash will head on a path towards canonization. That’s where the reality begins to slip off of the pages of Bahrani’s screenplay (co-written with Amir Naderi). But it’s very well-acted by Garfield and Dern. Shannon too, of course–he’s one of our most compelling performing presences (blockbusters, art films, television, stage…it doesn’t seem to matter) in years. They are betrayed when a script that focuses on a very real financial crisis, dips into the thriller genre, and attempts to wrap its finale in a bow.