For all of the books and movies that have covered the housing crisis and collapse in the early 21st century, there always tend to be more modest nuggets of storytelling that are lost in the tidal wave of ink and celluloid that deserve their own attention. For the most part, 99 Homes is that nugget, and worth savoring just as much as the big studio efforts.
Co-written by Amir Naderi and Ramin Bahrani (Man Push Cart), the latter of whom would direct the film, 99 Homes shows us some of the events occurring within Florida in the midst of the housing collapse. Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield, The Social Network) is a construction worker trying to make enough money to reclaim his house, which has been foreclosed upon. The money to try and do so is a somewhat insurmountable mountain to climb, and he's eventually evicted from the home, by Rick Carver (Michael Shannon, Take Shelter). Rick sees Dennis put up a fight over some construction tools he claims one of Rick's men stole, and decides to take him under his wing, showing him the ropes of what he does. To say that some of it is less than above board is putting it mildly; Dennis and a friend remove HVAC units, and take pictures to prove the homes are missing them so Rick's company can ‘replace' them and bill the government for them. Dennis helps Rick perform evictions, and then he begins to perform them on his own, slowly inhabiting Rick's lifestyle but facing an increasing moral dilemma.
As of this writing, The Big Short has received a lot of praise for its look at the buildup and collapse of the housing market, and the transactions made on it. 99 Homes is slightly in the same vein, but whereas The Big Short is more comprehensive, 99 Homes looks at the microeconomic portions of the crisis. The former looks at the actual burst of the bubble, the latter looks at the damage, and particularly some of the vultures circling it, and does so just as effectively. This is primarily to the work of Garfield, whose British inflection is hidden quite well in the twang of the South. He demonstrates the pain of losing his family home convincingly, and Garfield handles his transformation from prey to predator better than expected, full marks to him for doing this and for the way Bahrani shows it.
Michael Shannon's assumption of Rick is just as good, and one that he does effortlessly. I think there may be a certain ‘Michael Shannon-ess' perception of him still lingering in the public, where he is ominous and maybe a little bit crazy, or feared upon. Kind of like his roles in The Iceman or Boardwalk Empire. He dials it back enough, but not so much that he doesn't lose his onscreen presence. Rick is supposed to be a greedy sumbitch and is, and plays hard and fast with the rules and the system as you'd expect him to. There isn't a sign of redemption in him, nor should there be because, either in Rick's mind or anyone else's, if he doesn't do it someone else would.
Things in the second and third act tend to unfold in a manner for 99 Homes that tend to cheapen the groundwork laid in the opening hour. Events tend to run a touch sensationalist and seem to settle on and ending that is idyllic and perhaps not realistic. Also, Laura Dern (The Fault in our Stars) plays Dennis' mother, who lives with him and helps watch his son, and she is wasted in the role, save for one scene to serve as Dennis' conscience that frankly anyone could have done.
If I gave you an example of a film where principal photography began in late 2013, the film premiered in the late summer of 2014 and didn't see a theatrical release until the fall of 2015, one could very easily say that the film probably had some production or financing troubles, or was inherently flawed and nobody realized it. I'm not sure if there is a substantial flaw to 99 Homes, but it's definitely a smart and emotionally suspenseful film that's worthy of your attention.The Blu-ray:
Broadgreen Pictures rolls 99 Homes out with an AVC-encoded 2.40:1 widescreen transfer which looks better than I expected. The film was slightly color timed to bring out subtle colors, and pushes Shannon's white jacket brightly in the opening moments of the film while still possessing image detail on fabrics. Lots of shots are lit naturally and the sun coming through windows and bouncing off walls in an abandoned house has a palpable feel to it. It's a surprisingly good presentation worthy of the source material.The Sound:
The DTS HD 5.1 lossless track is also good, with thuds of equipment sounding clear and with requisite subwoofer involvement, and lesser moments like power drills or phones ringing sounding clean and convincing during the film. Dialogue is consistent through the film and it has a broader dynamic range than one would expect going into a film like this, but the sound is natural, replicated as such, directly and effectively.Extras:
Bahrani provides a commentary on the feature and it is a good one, as he shares good recollection on locations that were landed and occasionally working with the actors. He discusses scene and lighting intents, as well as shot breakdown, and his lengthy research on the role. It is a worthy complement to the disc. A deleted scene with commentary (1:26) is at the end of the disc and it is fine.Final Thoughts:
99 Homes throws its hat into the ring of a growing number of films that discuss the housing bubble burst, and focuses on a lesser known yet just as dangerous portion of it rather well, with excellent performances by its two actors. Technically, the disc is solid and the commentary is definitely worth listening to if you like the film, which I think you will, and you should definitely check out.