Saturday, October 03, 2015

"99 Homes": formulaic parable based on Florida's real estate crisis (as per Jeb Bush?)

99 Homes”, directed by Ramin Bahrani, may be intended to make a political statement, especially about how Jeb Bush ruined a lot of Florida homeowners in the middle 2000’s, driving them underwater, and then looking the other way as greedy lawyers and real estate “brokers” fed.  In fact, the film is fairly balanced.  Homeowners were reckless, taking out mortgages they couldn’t afford and borrowing for swimming pools and luxuries on OPM (other people’s money). You can’t get something for nothing.
The film also makes the whole Orlando FL area look seedy (“Body Heat” comes to mind), filled with square miles of tract homes on flat land, dotted with lakes but otherwise rather unremarkable.
I was just there in July, to go to the theme parks.  I got real familiar with the area around Semoran north of the airport, and some of the locations looked familiar. I felt like I was still on that trip.

The writing, based on a story by Bahareh Azimi, is formulaic, piling on the crises and ironies. As the film opens, Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield), a home construction worker with his own tools, won’t get paid for the last two weeks of his work because the developer went under, in the aftermath of the 2008 crisis.  Soon his home is foreclosed, with greedy “realtor” Rick Carver (Michael Shannon) accompanied by a sheriff who seems to be in on the take.  The judge seems to be part of the conspiracy, too, as supposed 30-day notices and appeals are simply ignored.

Carver’s middle-aged aggression is obvious, as we see him strapping a pistol on his balding leg. Pretty soon, he’s hiring Dennis to be his understudy and “hit man”, to go after many other flat-country homeowners and give them the same treatment.  (We don’t see homes fall into sinkholes.)
Garfield seems too nice for the part, and isn’t totally convincing that he can pull other waifs out of their homes.  When Carver wants him to participate in some courtroom paperwork fraud, Dennis has his crisis of conscience, leading to the final confrontation of the film.  We see the Garfield of Spiderman and “The Social Network”.  Dennis mother (Laura Dern) figures into his change of heart. (That Nash is a single dad is rather glossed over.) Yes, at the very end, we’re left with the idea that Carver will himself go to jail.

Carver gives a speech, about the world having only winners and losers, sounding like Donald Trump.  He sees what he does as perfectly virtuous, something that promotes reproductive advantage for the fittest. There is something seedy about the idea that the only way to make it in a competitive world is to pimp and manipulate other people, just to provide for one's own/ 

The official site is here (Broad Green).

I saw the film at Angelika Mosaic before a substantial Saturday afternoon audience.

Picture: Street fair in Orlando, July 2015, my trip.

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