“Ramin Bahrani has established himself as a filmmaker with a flair for dramatizing the experiences of new immigrant communities in the United States with excellent pictures like Man Push Cart and Goodbye Solo,” begins the Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw. “The same compassion is here, but the engines of drama and confrontation have been revved up an awful lot more. 99 Homes is an exciting and emotionally grandstanding drama about temptation, shame, humiliation and greed—and it’s got something to say about America’s toxic-loan slump and how the taxpayer-funded bailout created a bonanza for big businesses who could make money out of the recession.”
Adam Woodward sets it up in Little White Lies:
Andrew Garfield gives his most sensitive and assured performance as down-on-his-luck Orlando handyman Dennis Nash, whose house is foreclosed on following some fudged legal activity, forcing him, mother Lynn (Laura Dern) and son Connor (Noah Lomax) to temporarily relocate to a seedy motel on the other side of town that’s overburden with evictees, each with little hope of reclaiming what they still believe is rightfully theirs. Despite no job prospects on the horizon, Nash is determined to get the family home back, and so after making the decision that it’s time to toughen up, he swallows his pride and prepares to sell his soul.
By a cruel twist of fate, the devil finds him work. With his crisp white suit jacket, straight-off-the-forecourt luxury sedan and ominously glowing e-cigarette clamped between his thin lips, real estate king Rick Carver (Michael Shannon) is an archetypal baddie-we-love-to-hate. Darth Vaper, if you will.
“Watching decent working people, not to mention the elderly who have nowhere to turn, getting rudely turned out of their homes with no notice is so appalling that audience empathy with the anonymous victims is automatic,” writes the Hollywood Reporter‘s Todd McCarthy. “The reptilian Carver has the routine down cold and no one can talk his or her way out of it no matter what. This kind of blunt-force presentation of the ramifications of certain governmental and banking policies over the past three decades—the action is set in 2010—is rare in commercially minded American films, so it’s bracing and sobering to have it laid out so plainly as an everyday reality.”
“It’s not that financial recovery is impossible, the film posits, but that it must come at the direct inverse cost to another party, leading to an economy built entirely around the individual.” Guy Lodge for Variety: “It’s not a subtle argument, and its dramatization is often schematic: At one point, Nash is required to oversee an eviction that mirrors his own family’s earlier ordeal almost beat for beat. But Bahrani’s rhetoric is undeniably rousing, and not without compelling supplementary specifics.”
“Having played his first hand using a stacked deck, emotionally speaking, it’s to Bahrani’s credit that he subsequently manages to lead us through a spectrum of other perspectives as the film progresses,” writes Catherine Bray at HitFix. “It’s a spectrum painted with a broad brush (and highlighted by an extremely insistent score that will irritate fans of subtlety). Bahrani’s arguments are laid out as cleanly and simply as an ethics textbook’s hypothetical dialogues, but I rather respected that about this exercise.”
“[T]hose of us not directly affected by the housing collapse will nonetheless emerge with a better understanding of its terrible human toll, one all too easy to push aside when it is reduced to statistics and demographics,” writes Jessica Kiang at the Playlist. “And anyone watching who has, God forbid, been at the biting end of the property crisis must surely gain at least a small measure of catharsis at seeing their case so passionately and persuasively argued. There may be other Venice titles that as cinephiles we admire more, but as human beings striving for a modicum of social responsibility, 99 Homes truly affected us. It is important that you see this film.”
“Perhaps Bahrani is invoking Brian De Palma’s Scarface in the Florida setting,” suggests the Telegraph‘s Robbie Collin: “certainly, Carver’s nihilistic state-of-the-nation rants recall Tony Montana in his self-actualizing pomp, and Shannon delivers them with Tyrannosaur charisma. He and Garfield are an ideal double-act, and the possibility of a late Damascene conversion for either man seems unlikely, but never out of the question.” All in all, 99 Homes is “a timely, terrifically acted moral nail-biter.”
Updates, 8/31: The BBC’s Nicholas Barber notes that Michael Shannon’s Rick Carver is, like Michael Douglas’s Gordon Gekko, “a charismatic, unapologetic cheerleader for making as much money as the US government’s loose regulations will allow—plus some that they won’t. And like Gekko, he has a knack for phrases that sum up the spirit of the age. True, none of them is quite as pithy as the catchphrase attributed to Gekko—’Greed is good’—but there are a few contenders: ‘They build homes. I own homes.’ ‘Don’t get emotional about real estate.’ ‘America doesn’t bail out losers. America was built by bailing out winners.’ Another trait that he and Gekko have in common is that while Carver is ostensibly the film’s villain, you can bet that in years to come, a certain breed of would-be entrepreneurs will exalt him as a role model.”
“Right from the first big sequence—an early, gripping confrontation in which Dennis’s family is forced by police officers to step outside the house that’s been foreclosed on—it’s clear that Bahrani’s direction is hitting harder than ever,” writes Tommaso Tocci at the Film Stage. “Despite not being a bad film, audiences just never took to At Any Price; things will be surely different this time. Sustained rhythm, urgent framing, and a perniciously overbearing score ensure this second venture into the darkness of a systemic failure will not be forgotten so quickly.”
“Why haven’t we seen more films like this since the financial crash?” asks Time Out‘s Cath Clarke. Four out of five stars from John Bleasdale at CineVue. And Wendy Mitchell interviews Bahrani for Screen Daily.
Update, 9/4: Celluloid Liberation Front for Cinema Scope: “A Moral Tale drenched in good and altruistic feelings we thought only the Pope was capable of, 99 Homes is a 99-proof Hollywood flick that embodies the devastating consequences of the banking crisis in a standard-issue movie villain—it’s there to be defeated by the good guys. This is how it goes in Ramin Bahrani’s film: Carver is thwarted in his plans to profit off of the misery of others, and we see that benevolent heroes will save us from economic disaster. Only time will tell if our Great Depression will end following 99 Homes’ theatrical release, but for now we can maybe say that Bahrani is not the most realistic neorealist.”
Update, 9/5: “For the first hour or so 99 Homes is flat-out terrific, with razor-sharp dialogue, a documentarian’s eye for anthropological detail, and genuinely difficult moral dilemmas,” writes Jim Hemphill at Filmmaker. “Yet as in his previous feature, At Any Price, Bahrani is unable to sustain the power of early scenes and cheapens his material with a corny, unconvincing resolution.”
Update, 9/8: Filmmaker‘s Scott Macaulay has five questions for Bahrani.
Update, 9/12: “99 Homes pulses with energy from the very beginning,” writes Brian Tallerico at RogerEbert.com. “Bahrani is always keeping his camera moving, timed to an unsettling electronic-driven score. It is his most confidently made film. It doesn’t feel like there’s a beat, a shot, an angle that’s out of place or unconsidered. And yet that streamlined approach to filmmaking never corrupts Bahrani’s ability to capture the human condition, as he did so completely in films like Chop Shop and Goodbye Solo.”
Update, 9/14: “The two actors play off each other well,” grants Noel Murray at the Dissolve, “but as Dennis learns all he needs to know from Rick, and has to decide how far he’s willing to go to be successful, 99 Homes ceases to be a story about a person and instead becomes an illustration of an ethical dilemma. But at least it’s a punchy one. If Bahrani feels obliged to keep turning outraged op-eds into movies, at least he can do audiences the favor of hiring actors like Shannon, who can deliver ‘it sucks but here’s the way things are’ speeches in ways that sound like actual movie dialogue.”