Let’s Get Reel : 99 Homes

Kevin Doyle ’16, Movie Columnist

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“Don’t get emotional about real estate.” This is the most frequently spoken phrase of the new drama 99 Homes by Ramin Bahrani. While this phrase is uttered multiple times throughout the movie, the audience is sure to get incredibly emotional about the events of this movie. This is a film that has managed to transform something as legal and bureaucratic as foreclosure into a thrilling tale of greed destroying so many lives.

The movie follows a handyman, Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield), who has fallen on hard times and eventually finds his home being foreclosed by a heartless and business-like real estate agent Rick Carver (Michael Shannon). Intent on regaining his family home, Dennis desperately tries to get back on his feet financially. Eventually, with no other option, Dennis finds himself reluctantly working for the very real estate agent who so callously threw him out of his home. While working for Rick, Dennis is faced with more and more difficult choices between morality and helping his family.

The first thing that you notice about this movie is its unrelenting pace. From its documentary-style filming to its hard-hitting dialogue, this movie does not let up from the first scene. While it is supposedly “inspired by true events” (the most nebulous of terms, which means basically nothing in terms of the veracity of the film), it is manages to stay interesting and gut-wrenching. One scene that is etched into my head is that of an elderly man being evicted from his home and having nowhere to go and no one to turn to.

Michael Shannon’s character is the most interesting in the movie and while he is most certainly an evil and despicable man, he does have some sympathetic aspects. He can be viewed as an ultra-competitive man who does not see right and wrong, just winners and losers. He wants to make sure that he and his family is part of that select group of winners. In lots of ways, his Trump-like character is the literal incarnation of what American liberals despise. He’s heartless, hypocritical, immoral, opportunistic, bigoted and so much more.

What I did not appreciate about the movie is that they had to add an element of illegality to the real estate broker’s dealings. While Michael Shannon’s character is certainly uncaring in his evictions, most of the time he is not without reason. One can sense that the illegality of some of his dealings was added in so the action of foreclosing on a home would be viewed as unquestionably unethical. It would have made for a far more interesting movie if it had merely made it about what happens to most Americans that have their home foreclosed on. Some are frugal and have fallen on hard times, others have spent beyond their means, but everyone losing their home is gripped by a palpable tragedy.

There are so many other things that this thought-provoking movie brings up: predatory loans, the housing crash, people’s emotional connection to a living space, and so much more. I encourage everybody to go and see this powerful movie. 

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