Published Sep 12, 2014Richard Carver makes a good living off of destroying other people's lives. As a realtor specializing in foreclosures during the housing crash, Carver is unsympathetic to the plight of those he's evicting from their homes and tossing unceremoniously into the street. When we first meet him, he's turned up at a house where the distraught owner has committed suicide and Richard's too busy planning his next deal to give any statement to the police.
Michael Shannon slips into the role like one of the expensive suits Carver wears, creating the kind of startling real-world villain who justifies his actions by casting blame on the system that created the opportunities for him to exploit. Director Ramin Bahrani, who last tackled the crumbling infrastructure of America with less satisfying results in At Any Price, delves into a fascinating and infuriating world in 99 Homes, where there's money to be made at every turn if you know where to look for it and you're willing to engage in some shady practices.
Carver shows up one day at the door of Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield), a young father who works construction jobs that he's occasionally actually paid for and lives in his childhood home with his mother (Laura Dern). He's seen the notices and been to court to try and fight it, but still can't believe it when all of their belongings end up strewn across the lawn. They check into a cheap motel, where Dennis tells a guest they'll only be there a few days. She tells him that's what she said two years ago.
So what else other than money would motivate Dennis to turn around and work for Carver, starting with the unenviable task of dealing with backed-up sewage at one home and eventually becoming his de facto right-hand man? Dennis, keeping the job a secret from his family, only aims to buy back his old house at first, but is that really enough when there's a bigger one for sale in the neighbourhood that also has a pool?
It's one thing to see documentaries about the subject of the housing bubble bursting, but Bahrani shows here the intricacies of the scams being run by the unscrupulous to turn more profits and the hopelessness of the people with no place to go after foreclosure. The performances are first-rate across the board and, though it seems like the material would perhaps demand a bleaker ending, it's hard to fault Bahrani too much for believing that there's still some decency out there among all the sharks looking for blood.
"We used to make shit in this country, build shit," Frank Sobotka said at the end of the second season of The Wire. "Now we just put our hand in the next guy's pocket." It's scary to think how many Richard Carvers are out there with their hands in plenty of pockets. (VVS)