It’s 2010 in Florida, and Andrew Garfield is being evicted from his home. Or, rather, Garfield’s character in “99 Homes” is being evicted: Dennis Nash, a young single father and construction worker, along with his mother, Lynn, and young son, Connor (played by Laura Dern and Noah Lomax, respectively).
The details — state, year, family, street — aren’t important. Evictions and foreclosures happen all over the country, and despite the recovery post-2008, they’re still happening. It’s the Nash family’s fictional story that’s played out on the big screen, but writer-director Ramin Bahrani could have swapped any of the millions of stories about families living in poverty and teetering on the brink for the same heartbreaking effect, the same hard-hitting punch.
“You are trespassing right now. You are breaking the law,” decrees the bank’s real estate agent, Rick Carver (played by Michael Shannon) as soon as he evicts the Nash family and they are left standing on the curb of the house that was, five minutes ago, their home.
“Yeah, this is happening,” chimes in the police officer, adding force to Carver’s legality.
“No,” Nash says in response. “This is not happening.”
But in America, this is. The state is not on the poor man’s side. This is it — this is what’s happening.
“We’re in a very inhumane place (in terms of) how we’re treating each other on a mass scale,” Garfield said in an interview with The Daily Californian. “How do we shift back towards community? How do we shift back towards compassion? … How do we really get into the business of remembering that we’re all in this together? … It’s not going to be fucking easy.”
“99 Homes” is hardly easy viewing itself, but it is one of the most important movies of the year.
The film opens with a brutal panning shot of the aftermath of a suicide brought on by a notice of eviction. Later, a desperate Nash is hired by Carver to clean up a house whose evicted owners have backed up the sewer system and left human waste flooding ankle-deep through the house. “KILL BANKERS” is scrawled on the wall in red spray paint. Nash is, quite literally, cleaning up shit. He’s covering up the mess of forcing a family out onto the streets so that the house — in which the family celebrated birthdays and Thanksgivings — can be sold at the highest profit. The camera lingers on a child’s doll, suspended in human shit on the floor.
“First one’s a bitch, but you get numb to it,” Carver says, commenting on the eviction of families from their homes. Carver promotes Nash from someone who flips houses to someone who drags families out of them — just like how Carver dragged Nash out of his.
As Nash is forced to evict a man, the evictee asks, “How do you live with yourself? You make me sick.”
Bahrani takes a sickeningly raw look at capitalism in America, and what he finds isn’t pretty. Garfield showcases the effects of it spectacularly. With acting so subtle, raw and real, it’s almost impossible to watch him grapple with money and morality and not feel affected.
In “99 Homes,” no one comes out unscathed. “Neither my character nor Michael (Shannon)’s character is happy,” Garfield says. “The one that’s in power is miserable, and the one that’s powerless, of course, is miserable as well. The 1 percent are not happy with the setup either, as they hoard all of their money in international banking and they put a gate around their house, and a gate around a gate, and barbed wire on top of that gate. That sounds like a prison to me — a self-inflicted prison.”
“Is it worth it?” Nash asks Carver, referring to the price Carver has had to pay for his fortune — the choices he’s had to make, the things he’s had to do. “As opposed to what?” Carver asks in return.
And then the film leaves the question hanging heavily in the air, weighing on the audience’s minds.
Is it worth it? Is any of the money worth the cost of earning it? Is any amount of money ever going to be worth cutting out your conscience, pushing people down to drown so that you can stay afloat and that you can grab onto that yacht? There’s a line between between ambition and greed, but who draws it — and where?
Contact Tyler Allen at [email protected].