It has been said that the American dream has to do with home ownership. Being a home owner is the goal of many of our citizens.
Yet the housing crisis of 2008 changed the landscape of the dream. Set in 2010, 99 Homes uses the housing crisis as a stage to tell its tale of how an honest man got thrown out of his home and transforms into one of the people who acted to put him on the street.
Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield) is a construction worker in Orlando, Fla. At the beginning of the movie he is construction worker building a new home. The foreman tells all the laborers to stop working because the financing for the home fell through. Nash asks about the two weeks work they had already put into the construction. The foreman says no one is getting paid.
The next day Nash is standing in court. He is about to be evicted from his childhood home. There was a loan taken out on the house to buy new tools for his work. But hard times killed the housing market and work dried up. Now he is told by a judge that he is in foreclosure.
Nash believes he has 30 days before being put on the street, but the next scene brings a knock on the door revealing Rick Carver (Michael Shannon). Carver is there on behalf of the bank to evict the family. He tells Nash as a courtesy he will allow the family three minutes to gather what they need or want to save. Imagine having only three minutes to gather up your life. Then a crew comes in and puts all of their belongings on the street.
Nash moves his son and mother (Laura Dern) to an unsafe motel. He expects it to be a short-term stay, but is unsettled when he is told by a family at the motel that they had been there for two years.
Knowing he needs to find work, he looks into his tool box to get what he needs, only to find that his tools are stolen. He goes to Carver’s office to confront the crewmember Nash believes took his tools. What happens next is a life-changing moment.
A call comes in that a property Carver handles has had the sewer blocked and waste is backed up into the house. Carver offers Nash a chance to make $250 cleaning up the waste. This sets in motion Nash being taken under Carver’s wing.
Carver tells Nash that the housing crisis is the best thing to happen to him. He declares to Nash that “America does not bail out losers. America bails out winners.” Carver’s philosophy of life is to do whatever it takes to make a dollar — have no conscience, but take advantage of the situation and those in his path.
Carver begins teaching Nash how to make money by cutting corners, stealing and putting people out of their homes.
Nash sees this as a way to get back his home. He believes that the end justifies the means and plans to work only to get back the house and get his son and mother back into their home. But before long he is in it too deep. The money rolls in and the temptation of riches is too great.
99 Homes shows us how one man loses his soul in the pursuit of something noble, his home. But the allure of money becomes too great. It is a parable similar to Mark 8:36: “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world yet forfeit their soul?”
There is true sadness watching a decent man go down a road that leads him to becoming the very person he loathes. Before he knows it he is the very person who produced such misery in himself.
What makes this movie so compelling is watching Garfield and Shannon work with each other. Shannon portrays Stromboli, the puppet master in Pinocchio, who pulls the strings of poor Nash. Nash responds by doing what the puppet master beckons him to do, but all the while you see the anguish on his face over what he becomes.
Garfield shows such raw emotion that one can look in his eyes and see that he is at the verge of tears every moment of this movie.
Co-written and directed by Ramin Bahrani, there is real drama here. Bahrani is an independent filmmaker, but this is his best and most mainstream work. Using only two focal characters, the director gives us a story of how the desire to be just a homeowner can drive someone to do things he would not have done otherwise. We get to see how the love of money becomes the root of all evil.
Rated R for language including some sexual references, and a brief violent image
Directed by Ramin Bahrani
Written by Ramin Bahrani and Amir Naden
With: Andrew Garfield (Dennis Nash), Michael Shannon (Rick Carver), Laura Dern (Lynn Nash), Tim Guinee (Frank Green), Noah Lomax (Connor Nash)