"It's not your home anymore." The words that would cut any homeowner's heart. It's any family's nightmare, the loss of the American dream.
The blood-splattered opening scene where a homeowner ends his life than being dragged out of his home sets a unnerving tone for the film. When the market crashed and housing bubble burst in 2008, thousands of homes went into foreclosure. This is a fictional story, yet it will feel all-too-familiar and hit close to home for many.
Dennis Nash (Andrea Garfield, "The Amazing Spider-Man," "The Social Network"), a young single father, along with his son (Noah Lomax) and mother (Laura Dern), find themselves having merely minutes to gather their most important belongings and get out of their lifelong home. They're being told that they're now trespassing.
Serving the eviction notice is a real estate shark, Rick Carver (Michael Shannon, "Man of Steel," "Premium Rush"). Not merely serving a notice, Rick is manipulative and merciless, evicting people from their homes coldly and swiftly, profiting from their miseries and legal loopholes.
When a cleanup job opens up unexpectedly in one of the foreclosed houses, Rick presents Dennis, an unemployed construction worker and skillful handyman, with a bottom-of-the-barrel opportunity. Dennis begrudgingly takes it up as a means to put food on the table for his homeless family.
One simple job opens up a world of shady dealings. Rick justifies and the stealing and scamming from the government and banks as being no different than the people who buy homes they can't afford and are not able to pay back. As he plainly puts it, "America doesn't bail out losers." It's a rigged system made for and by winners. Of course, there are those honest, hard-working people who fall on hard times due to the recession. And people who get snared in the reckless lending practices and don't understand what it is they're signing on the dotted lines or told to do certain things by those in charge.
Dennis learns fast, rises to the top and makes real cash. He cuts a deal with Rick that he will do his bidding as a way to get his family home back. Internally conflicted with transparent anguish, Dennis the evictee becomes the very person serving eviction notices and getting people out to the curb. One heartwrenching scene after another inexorably play out.
While the details of the latter dealings may not be entirely clear than the earlier scams, it is deeply distressing as livelihoods, and in some cases, people's lives are at stake. Dennis is left with a choice to stand up or turns a blind eye. Garfield is exceptional in conveying Dennis' crisis of conscience.
There's no Hollywood ending and it does feel less satisfying, but just like in real life, there's not always a happy ending. Directed and co-written by Ramin Bahrani, "99 Homes" is a dreary story worth telling, unfolding through realistic, powerful acting all around.
While no "Inside Job" (a must-see documentary), "99 Homes" is a sobering reality and concrete byproduct of our time.