99 Homes actually hits very close to home for me, as I have been dealing with a mortgage crisis myself since 2006. Even if I didn’t feel personally vindicated by the film, it is objectively good drama, the kind of difficult situations I want films to address, but to address responsibly both socially and narratively. 99 Homes is my favorite film of Telluride.
Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield) is facing eviction and the court favors the bank. They’ve already got a short sale lined up, and this is true to life; they’d rather sell the foreclosure to someone else for less than help the original owner. He’s behind on his payments because the bank advised him to stop paying so he’d qualify for a program, which didn’t work. The only work he can get is actually for the man who spearheaded his eviction, real estate mogul Richard Carver (Michael Shannon).
Carver is the Glengarry Glen Ross of eviction. He makes it thrilling, and the procedure is fascinating, illustrating what is so, so wrong with the system in place. There are hostile people in charge of our lives: the banks, the courts, the cops and even the hired help of the realtors. The fact that the cops only give the Nashes two minutes to gather their things is egregious. I mean, does it really have to be this instant? Whatever technicalities led the Nashes to believe they had more time, couldn’t they at least have an hour on the day?
And Carver stands on the law, but the same law manipulates people into buying homes in the first place. His whole mantra is “Don’t get emotional about property” but that’s exactly how they sell you a house in the first place. They talk about home and ownership and abstract concepts appealing to one’s pride, not to mention the incentives and bully tactics. If it were really a purely financial transaction, most people probably wouldn’t choose to make a 30 year financial investment of hundreds of thousands of dollars. That’s not even the point of the movie. It’s just the real life world of 2010 in which the film is set. Carver is happy to manipulate the government and Fannie Mae to his own ends. He blatantly commits fraud to benefit from bailout programs and there is no one policing him.
This sets up the ultimate drama. Can a good person succeed by playing by their rules? I actually hope he can’t. I would really lose hope if cheating was the answer. Writer/director Ramin Bahrani really captures the weight Nash feels taking this job. All day he faces justified resistance, people who refuse his offers and resist the more forceful tactics, and Nash isn’t steeled for it.
The only complaint I can foresee people having is that Bahrani often uses children to evoke emotion in the foreclosure scenes. Children on film can be dicey, but I agree with Bahrani’s message and I think it is true. Children are a part of this crisis. They are the ones affected who truly have no agency in all this. You don’t get to ignore them. I suppose this is also a world where everybody fights until the very end to save their home and no one just gives up and vacates before Carver & Co. get there. I’ll allow it. I don’t see how showing an easy foreclosure job would help the story, and most people do try to avoid eviction.
I hope I didn’t make it sound too much like a message movie, because it is really just the basis for compelling drama. The fact that the message is valid means the drama worked successfully. Carver does lay out the entire corrupt system at one point though. Please pay attention to what he’s saying, and stop enabling that system.