For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? – King James Bible, Mark 8:36
This Bible quote is maybe the best synopsis of the theme of the movie 99 Homes. It’s a look at the human cost of naked capitalism, specifically real-estate speculation during the recent housing bubble. It’s also a look at what human beings will do, not just for greed but for “success”, which is defined in the narrowest way in this film.
99 Homes follows Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield), a young construction worker who loses his job and then can’t make house payments. He, his mother and his son are evicted. Desperate for work, Nash strikes a deal with the shady real-estate broker who evicted him, and ends up putting other homeowners through the same ordeal, all in a quest to regain his lost family home.
Broker Rick Carver (Michael Shannon) rigs the game and then throws homeowners who are behind on their payments into the street. He recognizes the pain he’s causing but ignores it, scamming homeowners and the government alike. In his worldview the rich know how the game works, and they manipulate the rules to grow richer.
“America doesn’t bail out the losers,” Carver says.
I appreciated how even Carver – the bad guy of the piece – still isn’t portrayed as a total villain. Instead, he’s a complex individual who fully understands the misery he causes even while he wheels and deals his way to wealth.
Multiple scenes show Carver, then Nash foreclosing on homeowners who seem to have no clue how things work, and persist in believing that the system will work for them to save their houses. Instead, the system is rigged. The movie portrays the average home as spoils, and the homeowner as something to be tossed aside.
I did have a couple of quibbles with the movie. The ending scenes seem rushed, never hinting at the consequences of Nash’s final decision. It still makes for a satisfying finish.
It is odd, however, how women characters were written. They’re either clueless about how the world works, dependent on the men; or perks to be won, decorative as the houses.
This began to be annoying early on, and got worse. Nash’s mom (Laura Dern) seemed more clueless than I could easily believe. In fact her role serves little other purpose than as a reminder of the concept of “family” that Nash tries to preserve.
Other than that, I liked 99 Homes. It was intelligent, well-acted and intense. Most of the characters were nuanced and complex. Its connection with the recent housing bubble and recession gave it immediacy.
Here’s a link to more info about 99 Homes on IMDb.
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