"America doesn't bail out losers. America was built by bailing out winners."I often find that one of the most fascinating subjects throughout film history is the way that writers and directors choose to portray and tackle the American Dream. Today few are doing this better than Ramin Bahrani, crafting such intricate modern masterworks such as 2005’s ‘Man Push Cart’ and ‘Chop Shop’ in 2007. So naturally I was intrigued and left in deep anticipation when I heard his next project involved Andrew Garfield and Michael Shannon, with yet another spin on modern society’s financial goals and dreams.
In this thriller, a single father (Garfield) is evicted from his home and his only chance to recover it is to work for the charismatic and ruthless businessman (Shannon) who evicted him in the first place. At first he believes that this deal with the devil is a necessary cost to provide for his family but as he falls deeper into the businessman’s web, he finds his situation grows more brutal, dangerous and morally challenging than he ever imagined.
The previous work from Bahrani has mostly consisted of a more intricate and intimate scope in the past, taking quite a philosophical pace. But ’99 Homes’ definitely has the feel of a non-stop suspense movie. Our first scene involves what appears to be a happy and coping family being suddenly and uncomfortably uprooted from their home and left standing outside it, surrounded by the entirety of their possessions. It’s an alarming and uncomfortable way to open a movie, forcing the audience to confront the reality of such a situation and leaving them dumbfounded when they are faced with the difficult question of how to carry on. None of it is made easier by the coldness and confrontational attitude of their evictor Michael Shannon, as Garfield begs him to allow one more day to prepare, he gives them two minutes.
Through Shannon’s performance ’99 Homes’ allows itself to act as a savage critique of the American feudal system of only adapting and making exceptions for winners, taking a thorough examination of the current financial state of the average person and an unflinching view of the grim conditions this has left many people in. It does this so effectively partly due to its impeccably sharp script but also, as I said before, Shannon’s cut-throat nature (as an actor at least, I assume he’s not like that in real life, but then again I’ve never met him so… anyway). Shannon manages to strike a bizarre balance between merciless and considerate. It’s a complex performance that initially seems ruthless but similarly to Gordon Gekko from ‘Wall Street’ he gradually explains that this is how the world works, and you almost, but not quite, fall onto his side of the argument.
Andrew Garfield may not be Spider-Man anymore but his work as a dramatic actor here does not worry me at all as, rest assured, he will not be short of work. He goes from being a fighter to a reluctant participant in the grand scheme of those he despises and it is all excellently portrayed. He seems to be in a continuous anxiety for nearly the entirety of the film but manages to convey the fact that he is anxious for different reasons at different points in the story, from failing as a protector of his family to grudgingly siding with the enemy to get back on top. The raw and honest reactions of those he ends up evicting only make his struggle all the more tragic.
The only criticism I can really find is that after the brutality of the first half ’99 Homes’ never really surprised me after that, I could see where its plot was heading and anticipated certain beats of it. It was still executed flawlessly though and brought the ordeal in and out of perspective throughout to highlight both the importance and futility of it.
Not only does the fast pace keep you enthralled throughout, it makes you look at the situation with a sense of earnestness. Yet again Bahrani uses an individual character to analyse American society better than anyone else can today.