Actor Michael Shannon towers over 99 Homes ***, a decent film about property and recession that nevertheless hammers its points home as if directed by a roofer rather than a film maker.
Shannon is gloweringly magnificent as ruthless property developer Rick Carver who evicts defaulting tenants and repossesses their homes even while the poor families huddle outside on the lawn surrounded by all their stuff.
Carver – and the banks he’s representing – are amassing fortunes out of the misery of others in this recession-hit part of Florida, including Dennis Nash (played by Andrew Garfield), a construction worker who is forced to take up in a motel with his young son and hairdresser mother (Laura Dern).
Soon enough, however, the desperate Nash is hired for jobs by Carver and sucked into the same world which engulfed him. Shannon’s Carver clearly has the steel for this line of work; Garfield’s Nash, with his sensitive eyes and wispy facial hair, clearly does not.
Director Ramin Bahrani was much championed by the late film critic Roger Ebert, to whom this film is dedicated, and it certainly has its soul and heart in the right place. Bahrani’s early films (Man Push Cart, Goodbye Solo) looked at the dark side of the American Dream from immigrant perspectives, and here too, that dream is duly, cruelly trashed, crushing the notion of home and replacing it with the flimsy meaninglessness of houses.
However there’s a relentless obviousness about the film’s pacing and villainy that keep the viewer at a remove, even while Shannon delivers his masterly, lizardly performance, all darting tongue and hooded eyes. The pity is that 99 Homes feels a little out-of-date already (the film debuted at Venice last year) – a good film maintains its relevance and a great one can even intuit the future.