Posted on October 1, 2015 at 5:22 pm
It’s not called “99 Houses” or “99 Foreclosures,” though that is how they are seen by some of the characters in the film. The banks and the predatory dealmakers may think of these buildings as “assets” or “derivatives” following the 2008 subprime financial meltdown as buyers swoop in, buy them out of foreclosure, take government money to fix them up and then flip them for a profit. But for the people who live or lived in them, they are homes, they are sanctuaries, they are personal treasures filled with memories. They are the fortress of the people who call them home, and when that is breached, the family hardly knows who they are anymore.
Single dad Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield) does not just live in a home. He works in construction. His job is building and fixing homes. But after the subprime meltdown, there is no work. That means no money and soon that means no home. One of the cruelest consequences of the financial crisis was that in order to meet the pressure from Wall Street to keep producing subprime derivatives, mortgage brokers pushed loans on people who could not afford them, creating the notorious “liar’s loans” for people whose financial qualifications would not be adequate for a traditional mortgage. And so people like Dennis were thrown out of their houses by people like the appropriately named Rick Carver (Michael Shannon), who show up moments before the house will be foreclosed by the bank to buy the house from the owners, who really have no other choice.
Dennis makes the deal with the devil and that turns out to be just the beginning. Carver offers him a job. He begins with construction work but shows an aptitude for hard work, following orders without asking questions, and willingness to do whatever it takes to make enough money to get his mother (Laura Dern) and young son back home. He is determined to restore what they lost and bring them back to the house Carver, the bank, and the Wall Street derivative brokers took from them.
Writer/director Ramon Bahrani (“Goodbye Solo”) has an extraordinary gift for making intimate dramas that do more than exemplify complex and murky issues; they illuminate them. A thousand headlines and think pieces could not do as much to bring, well, home, the real-life impact of the failures of bankers and politicians than a movie like this one. As specific in time as a mix-tape featuring Flo Rida with T-Pain and Coldplay’s Viva La Vida, it approaches epic, even operatic scope as Dennis gets pulled, sometimes yanked, deeper and deeper into becoming what he most despised. He does not realize that he is giving up something much deeper and more visceral than his home and belongings.
Michael Shannon, master of volcanic anger, is mesmerizing as Carver, rough charm and brutal fury. As Dennis gets pulled deeper and deeper into Carver’s way of doing business, and then his way of thinking, we see how seductive corruption can be, and how, after a point no matter where you live, it is not a home.
Parents should know that this film has constant very strong and aggressive language, crude sexual references and some situations, severe family distress and homelessness, threats, illegal activity, suicide, and brief violence.
Family discussion: Who is responsible for the foreclosures? What does Dennis admire about Rick?
If you like this, try: “Sunshine State” and the upcoming film “The Big Short”