|'The film is every man, bank and Realtor for themselves, with every moral sacrificed along the way in pursuit of self-protection.'|
Ramin Bahrani's 99 Homes is one part Thriller, one part angry polemic addressed at the state of things. Set at around the time of the economic downturn in the US, Bahrani's narrative sees Andrew Garfield's labourer Nash falling under the wing of Michael Shannon's ruthless real estate mogul Rick Carver, but their interactions are only half of what the film is about.
99 Homes real aim is directed at power and the divestment of the same throughout society. Nash, as the narrative progresses, moves from a position of powerlessness to a position where he seems to have a level of control over his own destiny. Very quickly, like a representation of a burgeoning middle class, Nash seems to have opportunity at his feet, the ability to escape his allotted societal level. Nash's power though is arguably illusory; a loan from Carver and those within the film who retain control. Nash, like most of us, may win minor battles, but the war is being fought in the stratosphere above his head, by people on pay grades with several more zeroes than he.
Not that that structure, around power, absolves Nash. If what the film aims for is systems, rather than individuals, then the sociological system it shows is perversely one of collective individualism. 99 Homes is at pains to show us not as communities, but as singular entities, aware only of our little bubble. Nash protects son Connor (Noah Lomax) and mother Lynn (Laura Dern) throughout the film, but in a scene which lays it on a bit thick he evicts an elderly gentleman with no family left to care for him. The film is every man, bank and Realtor for themselves, with every moral sacrificed along the way in pursuit of that self-protection. Nash doesn't actually do anything that bad within the film, but he does little good too. At some points, such as with the eviction of the old man, he just aggressively fails to be good. By the conclusion, the system has show him that, whatever he does, the over-riding structure will swallow him up regardless.
None of this works without Garfield and Shannon's performances (Dern too, in support, is fantastic). The former still cuts a slightly awkward screen presence, which makes him predisposed to this sort of role; the out of place young gun in a world he doesn't understand. Shannon, meanwhile, continues as this generation's finest screen presence. The frustrating thing about Rick Carver, the really infuriating thing, is that you buy into the charm beneath the menace. You want him to help the struggling Nash, just as much as Nash does, even though you are aware that you are witnessing a pact with the devil being sealed.