I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.
Preston Barta // Editor
“America doesn’t bail out losers. American was built by bailing out winners.“
How about that for some truth about the American dream? This heartrendingly relevant statement serves as the foundation for this intense drama. However, even with its sprinkled, chewy axioms and powerful performances, 99 HOMES is not built to last.
Set amidst the backdrop of the 2008 housing market catastrophe, Andrew Garfield plays a young father named Dennis Nash, who is living in Florida with his mother (Laura Dern) and son (Noah Lomax). But soon they are cast into the streets by real estate shark Rick Carver (Michael Shannon) after they fail to pay their house payments.
This was a desperate time where economic turmoil rained over the country, and in order to survive, desperate measures must be taken. In spite of the odds, Nash is given an ironic yet unique opportunity by joining Carver’s team and putting others through the harrowing ordeal he and his family went through.
Filmmaker Ramin Bahrani (MAN PUSH CART, AT ANY PRICE) imbues his characters with a raw and icy complexity to achieve this vivid picture of a man’s integrity being tested during the housing market crisis. This is where the film excels, where it sets up an engaging story that explores the process from both sides of the coin.
From Garfield’s perspective, we watch Nash and his family collect their belongings and get thrown to the curb, not knowing where to go. As an audience we feel as though we are there with them enduring all the heartbreak of their situation. It’s quite moving, serving as one of the best scenes of the film– as troubling as that may sound.
From Shannon’s angle, on the other hand, we witness greed and power, and what it can do to a man. Forget feelings– Shannon’s Carver buried that long ago. All his focus points towards success (cue the quote at the top). Through his eyes we see different shades of people, ranging from the desperate to the flat-out dangerous. Seriously, these realtors never know what hand they’re going to be dealt, so carrying a gun is almost a necessity.
Bahrani handles this aspect with much precision and care. This provocative character study applies all the cinematic tools to explore the ethical dilemma at the heart of man’s fight to go further by whatever means necessary. However, where Bahrani loses the reins is in the film’s final act. Perhaps you’ve heard about the ending by now, as many critics have also made it clear that the film gets quite melodramatic in its final third. It’s true. Without diving into spoiler territory, there’s a character trait attached to Carver that felt unnecessary, taking this from being a great film to an OK one.
It’s one of the most frustrating things for a filmgoer when he or she watches a film that has all the proper ingredients yet still manages to mess up the batter along the way. 99 HOMES features award-worthy performances, an original premise that speaks so much truth, but contains a climax that is hard to like, leaving you with a bad taste in your mouth.
99 HOMES is playing in theaters today.