99 Homes fails to deliver on the promise of its premise, and only remains digestible because of powerhouse performances from Garfield and Shannon
Oscar season is slowly creeping back into our lives, where dramatic films yearly seek to catch the eye of those nominators who will bestow the highest accolade in the industry upon their work. Grandiose acting is key to this, fellow critics state, along with backing from the infamous or famous—depending at how you look at it—Weinstein brothers. Sadly, Ramin Bahrani’s latest thriller, 99 Homes, will be very, very long on the bookmaker’s odds when betting finally takes place on the Best Picture category.
Finding himself in the shoes of the average middle class worker, Andrew Garfield portrays Dennis Nash—a loving family man who is evicted from his house for financial reasons by Michael Shannon’s Rick Carver, an egotistical property entrepreneur. Nash will do anything to keep his idyllic household in existence, and sells his soul to Carver in order to make a living, mostly through an illegal fashion.
Garfield’s character is a clear foil to that portrayed by Shannon. Unlike Nash, Carver is a narcissistic and ruthless product of America’s mass corporate society, who also happens to vape. Sharp, expletive dialogue elevates the character, similar to J.K. Simmons’s Fletcher in last year’s film Whiplash. Having these two performances masks the cliché thriller script at hand. Without these two actors, Bahrani’s sixth feature film would surely crumble.
An independent style of film-making is evidently adopted by the director throughout. Hand-held camera work and voyeuristic styles are employed in an attempt to interpolate you into Nash’s shoes, alongside its creation pathos in particular. A clear avoidance of independent film-making tropes was evident in Bahrani’s 2008 hit success, Goodbye Sol—still his best film to date. A regurgitation of generic plot devices permeates all around 99 Homes, though. To occasionally revisit important stylistic and narrative features can be beneficial to the audience and film-maker alike. Unfortunately, Bahrani replays too many worn-down elements.
A profound statement between America’s rich and poor could have been integral to the story, but instead, Nash slowly works his way up Carver’s business to no great effect. Beneath the surface there is an emotionally engaging story waiting to happen, but the romanticism of the American Dream weighs down everything.
99 Homes is worth the watch simply to see Garfield back in action after a long, laborious few years under the watchful eye of Sony playing Spider-Man. Alongside him, in scintillating form, is Shannon; but nevertheless, the lack of a truly engaging source material leaves it all incredibly fragile. A strong and tense ending is not enough to rescue this thriller from the clutches of banality.