Michael Shannon has always looked like an evil bastard...his hardened face, those leering eyes and snake-oil smirk that simply screams "don’t trust me." While I'm sure he's probably a great guy in reality, I'm equally sure I'd root against him even if he were playing Atticus Finch. Shannon just has one of those faces you feel like punching.
Meaning he's perfectly cast in 99 Homes as Rick Carver, an amoral, unscrupulous real estate operator who specializes in being the first to pounce on properties in foreclosure and mercilessly kicking out the occupants. Carver makes Wall Street’s Gordon Gekko look like the poster boy for empathy, showing zero remorse for his actions (legal or otherwise). In other words, it's a role Shannon was born to play, and he succeeds magnificently, sucking all our attention away from anybody else onscreen at the time.
If Carver is this film’s Gordon Gekko, then Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield) is its Bud Fox. Nash is a struggling construction worker trying to support his son and mother (Laura Dern) when the bank forecloses on their home. The next day, Carver and the police arrive with eviction papers. Forced to move to a seedy hotel, Nash is unable to find steady work until, ironically, Carver himself offers some quick cash for a clean-up job of another property he just foreclosed on. Nash’s skills and smarts quickly prove to be an asset, so Carver takes him under his wing and starts paying Nash handsomely to do a lot of the dirty work (which eventually includes evicting others the same way he was).
It’s a classic deal with the devil. Despite being lured by sudden wealth and a lavish lifestyle, guilt begins to weigh Nash down. His initial goal was to simply get back the house he grew up in, but instead, he finds himself turning into the very man he hated the most, alienating his mother and son in the process.
|"This is my DC contract. A lot more zeroes than your Marvel one, huh?"|
Unlike Wall Street, which reveled in glorious 80’s era excess, 99 Homes hits far closer to the bone. I don’t claim to know the ins-and-outs of the real estate business, nor the legalities involved in evicting financially-helpless people from their homes, but the film totally convinces us this shit occurs every day by assholes just as soulless as Carver. Victims left in his wake are rendered suddenly homeless, driven to desperation and no one seems to care. So even though we understand Nash’s decision to fall in-league with Carver in order to buy-back his old house and provide for his family, we get no joy out of his victories because he doesn’t either.
Hence, 99 Homes is by-no-means a fun film. But it’s truly compelling and darkly intense, buoyed by outstanding performances by both Shannon and Garfield (who proves he’s capable of a lot more than donning a Spidey suit). I don’t know how often anyone would ever want to revisit this story, but in the moment, one can’t help but be morbidly fascinated.
And yes, you'll want to repeatedly punch Shannon in the face.
Audio Commentary by Writer/director Ramin Bahrani (includes a Deleted Scene)
PURR...LIKE A GOOD SCRATCH BEHIND THE EARS
(though sometimes cats don't appreciate TOO MUCH scratching)