By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)
Despite this film’s not-so-original plot, predictability, and it’s all-too-familiar archetypes, writer/director Ramin Bahrani keeps the material highly relevant and the stakes heartfelt and relatable. These positive points helps prevent 99 Homes from becoming just another tiresome morality parable. Economic strife is an issue with which most average moviegoers can relate or understand. The solid writing, direction, and excellent acting by the cast make this movie definitely worth watching.
Andrew Garfield stars as Dennis Nash, a hardworking, but struggling construction handyman in desperate need of help. The struggling economy has prevented Nash from working in his chosen trade, and he and his family have been evicted from their home for falling behind on the mortgage payments. Nash soon gets a break from an unlikely source–Rick Carver Realty, the company mostly responsible for his eviction. Rick Carver (Michael Shannon), at first, offers Dennis repair and carpentry jobs, but soon realizes Dennis has the personality and tenacity for a higher grade of employment. Nash eventually gets caught up in a moral dilemma of working for a company which robs people of their homes, but pays him money beyond his wildest dreams.
It didn’t take me very long after the start of the film to figure out, more or less, everything that would occur. I knew that the story would deal with the consequences of making deals with the “devil” and how it would impact the protagonist’s soul. The movie comes across very much like a blue collar Wall Street. The relationship between Nash and Carver plays out nearly identically to the one between Charlie Sheen’s Bud Fox and Michael Douglas’ Gordon Gekko. Still, writer/director Bahrani, who co-wrote the film with Amir Naderi and Bahraeh Aziri, does manage to offer some fresh moments to the movie. Bahrani’s film also takes a suspense/thriller approach to the material and he does so quite well.
I often sat on the edge of my seat during the more intense moments, and the thrilling climax of the film definitely delivers. Bahrani also raises the stakes a bit higher than Wall Street by showing the victims’ distraught and despairing reactions during a powerful and heart-wrenching montage. Bahrani, his editors and cast deserve praise for creating this compelling sequence which give the victims real faces and genuine personalities.
Garfield certainly shows much more maturity and range with his role here than perhaps ever before. I’m thinking it may be too soon to predict this, and a long shot at that, but he might actually get some recognition for his performance in this film when award nomination decisions are made early next year. Michael Shannon also delivers an excellent performance as Rick Carver, but I too feel that nominations may be unlikely, considering that he’s playing an archetypical character with limited development. Laura Dern also stars as Lynn Nash, Dennis’ mother, but,despite her strong performance, doesn’t have much screen time to really shine.
I also feel that the flaws of the plot do prevent this movie from being one of the best of the year. Still, Ramin Bahrani most certainly has a talent for filmmaking and true-to-life storytelling. I haven’t seen any of his previous work, but now my curiosity has been piqued. It is with good reason that late film critic Roger Ebert named him “the new great American director.” Ramin Bahrani graciously dedicated this movie to his departed admirer.