365 Movies By Day Reviews of Movies I Watch that I Feel Like Writing About

16Oct/150

99 Homes (2015)

99 Homes was a movie I was certain I was going to love. I was wrong. It was good, but not great. It had unavoidable flaws. Even with the most accomplished of a director, I don't think it could have avoided some of its pitfalls and still fit in a two hour time frame. Like an unusually high number of films that I've seen this year, I knew very little about this movie going in. My knowledge of the film was reduced to knowing that it starred Andrew Garfield (The Amazing Spider-Man, The Social Network) and Michael Shannon (Take Shelter, The Harvest), that it was a heavy R-rated drama based on home foreclosures, and that it was scoring a 90% on Rotten Tomatoes at its time of release. I hadn't seen a single preview of the movie, but what I did know about it was enough for me to see this movie. There was a 100% chance I was going to see this movie in the theater. While I do think this is a pretty good movie, it is not one that needs to be seen in the theater. It's not going to win any awards. If you get a chance to see it on Netflix or on cable, give a shot. You may not love it, but I think it'll grab your attention. While it is predictable and sort of gets in its own way, it is a tense and engrossing film. Furthermore, it continues to showcase Shannon's dominating screen presence. Love him or hate him, he creates memorable characters.

The movie revolves around the housing crash between 2007-2009. The setting is Orlando, Florida where over 120,000 homes had been sold in foreclosures or short sales since 2007.  The plot involves unemployed and underwater hardworking Americans are losing their homes left and right. Trying to stay one step ahead in the game proves impossible as banks are telling individuals and families two different things at the same time. Many banks were hoping for trial mortgage modifications while simultaneously pushing through foreclosure proceeding. This put many, including the fictional character Dennis Nash (Garfield) in a lose-lose situation. A construction worker by trade, we learn in the film's early minutes that he has been on a team building a new home for the past two weeks for free because the builder defaulted on the loan. Because of this all construction on the home comes to a halt and all 10+ construction workers are sent home penniless. With no job and bills piling up, Nash's chief concern is saving the family home that he shares with his mother Lynn (Laura Dern - Wild, Rambling Rose) and his son Connor (Noah Lomax - Safe Haven, Playing For Keeps)

Rick Carver (Shannon) is a deplorable real estate agent who preys on those who cannot make their mortgage payments. He is a cutthroat, heartless shark who acts in both unethical and illegal ways. He says multiple times to not fall in love with a home. It's much easier for the man living in a small mansion to say than it is for the people who have put their life savings into their property. Armed with his own gun and escorted by two local police officers Carver shows up at homes the day after a judge rules in favor of the bank over the defendant and tells whoever is on the other side of that front door that their home is now the property of the government and the home owners are indeed trespassing. Carver is emotionless as helpless people beg to keep their homes. Instead he gives them two minutes and then has a crew of blue-collar yes-men gut the house and put everything that isn't rooted to the ground out on the front lawn. Not only is it a callous move, it's an embarrassing one for those being evicted as neighbors look on.

***Start of Spoilers***

One of those who Rick evicts is Dennis. Dennis is just another number to Rick only he isn't. When Dennis shows up on site the day after his eviction accusing Rick's crew of stealing his tools, Rick sees the desperation in the man and offers him a couple hundred bucks to clean up the backlog of raw sewage that was the result of the recently evicted deliberately clogging up the pipes and forcing them to overflow after they had left the premise. Long story short is Rick likes what he sees in Dennis. He knows that the man is more ethically conscious than he is, but that he is willing to check his morals at the door because a paycheck is more important at the moment than is doing the right thing. Rick, filled with nothing but greed, has more foreclosures than he can deal with and he needs someone who can do the same thing that he can. With each day comes something new and sleazy. This includes raiding foreclosed houses of their air conditioning units and their refrigerators and then selling them on the open market while charging Fannie Mae to pay for replacements. This includes forging court documents and using law enforcement and court employees to illegally slide these forged documents into folders and ruining the defendant's chances of keeping their homes. Rick has no conscious. He is married, but he also has at least one lover who he keeps at a lakefront property.

People will go to great lengths to keep their homes and can resort to desperate measures when they are about to lose them, especially when they feel that they are losing them unjustly. This is why Rick holsters a gun down by his ankle and encourages Dennis to do the same. The reactions of those losing their homes is pretty realistic as is Dennis's reaction to his newly found wealth and doing the best job he can to justify an end to his means. As a lot of us would be, he's a completely different person when he doesn't have money issues to worry about as he was when he did. While I think a large percentage of us would be, I didn't like Dennis's path to his new riches. This will be touched upon in the next paragraph.

***End of Spoilers***

There were parts that were great and parts that needed vast improvement. The acting was really good. Shannon is as good as he's ever been and he has been great in previous roles. My favorite performance of his is of a person in the very early stages of paranoid schizophrenia in the amazing Take Shelter. But Garfield also holds his own. While many only recognize him for being Peter Parker in The Amazing Spider-ManGarfield is more than a superhero. And while the development of his character, in my opinion, was unbelievable, it doesn't take away from his performance. I just couldn't believe the change in Nash from the start of the movie until the end because of the short duration from the film's first scene until its last. That character development just wasn't there for me and it was something I couldn't get around. You can't just change who you are (especially your moral compass) overnight. But either director Ramin Bahrani (Life Itself) believes that you can or he wanted us to suspend that believe for the betterment of the movie. It wouldn't have worked for Roger Ebert and it didn't work for me either.

Likewise, a real estate agent like Rick Carver showing up at the doorsteps the day after a judge rules for an eviction and giving the owners 2 minutes to get their belongings didn't happen. It doesn't take a genius to know that foreclosure cases would get boggled down in the courts for months upon months, if not years. Likewise, when these eviction notices are passed out, the sheriff's department is going to give the owners at least a day to get their belongings in order. Certainly that is not as exciting as forcing this to happen in two minutes, but it's pretty irresponsible to make up facts when you are trying to portray a movie as realistic as possible.

Overall, this is a pretty decent movie and I'd recommend watching it at home, but not in the theater.

Plot 8/10
Character Development 6/10 (Shannon's character didn't need a ton of developing, but Garfield's did. His transformation from innocent construction worker/handyman to Shannon's prodigy wasn't believable...especially considering that the length of this film spanned just a couple of months. While I understand that people do desperate things in desperate situations, it's hard to change entirely who you are in a short period of time...likewise if something isn't in your personality at all, I don't know if you can really be the opposite of that to the extreme that Bahrani tried to do with Garfield)
Character Chemistry 7.5/10
Acting 8/10 (Shannon at the top of his game...Garfield holds his own...an actress of Dern's caliber wasn't needed...her character could have been played by anyone and would have been as effective)
Screenplay 8/10
Directing  7.5/10 (some pitfalls that even the best actors probably couldn't have avoided)
Cinematography 7/10 (it wasn't the most beautifully filmed movie)
Sound 8/10
Hook and Reel 9/10 (you'll be hooked within the first 30 seconds)
Universal Relevance 8/10 (while they overall plot seems realistic, I think that this movie took this to the extreme in order to really build the drama)
77%

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