99 Homes

99_Homes_Movie_Poster

I’m not proud of this, but I played a (small) role in the meltdown of the real estate market in 2008. I worked for a few months for the infamous Countrywide Home Loans. It was clerical work, but nonetheless I was a cog in the machine. I remember during one of the training sessions, one of the top executives of the company came to speak to the group of new hires I was in. She told us that the company’s income came entirely from late payment fees on mortgages. (I will never forget the expression of glee on this woman’s face as she told this to us.) Perhaps I was in a state of denial, but it wasn’t until after I left the company that I began to put two and two together. If all their income came from late payment fees, then they had to be luring people into getting mortgages they couldn’t really afford. Such a business model couldn’t be sustainable, and I suspect the top executives of the company knew this. However, when the collapse inevitably came, they all got golden parachutes, and everyone else got the shaft.

99 Homes, directed by Ramin Bahrani, from a script by Bahrani and Amir Naderi, is set shortly after the collapse of the real estate market. Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield) is a construction worker whose house is foreclosed upon by real estate agent, Rick Carver (Michael Shannon). Nash is forced to move into a motel room along with his mother (Laura Dern) and his son (Noah Lomax). By chance, Nash, who is desperate for work, winds up doing a maintenance job for Carver. Carver takes a liking to him, and offers him a permanent job. Nash is hesitant at first, but the money that Carver offers him is irresistible. Carver soon has Nash carrying out evictions for him. When Nash’s family finds what he is doing, they become upset with him. Nash’s job also increasingly puts him in situations that are morally and legally tenuous.

99 Homes is a condemnation of the moral values of our society: its tendency to value money over people, its tendency to rationalize greed and parasitism. In the film’s most powerful scene, Carver justifies what he does to Nash. He tells Nash that after the collapse of the real estate market, he found that there was more money to be made doing evictions than in selling houses. Carver’s seemingly rational arguments expose the ruthless cynicism of our economic system, a cynicism that Carver has embraced in order to get ahead. In some ways, 99 Homes reminds one of last year’s Nightcrawler, but in a way 99 Homes is more subtly disturbing. Whereas the main character in Nightcrawler is depicted as a sociopath, one gets the feeling that Carver was at one time a decent person, but he has been corrupted by the system he works in.

This film benefits from strong performances. Michael Shannon is brilliant as Carver. 99 Homes is one of the best films of the year.

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