Review: 99 Homes (TIFF 2014)

PLOT: A newly evicted single dad (Andrew Garfield) goes to work for the greedy real estate broker (Michael Shannon) who took his family home.

REVIEW: 99 HOMES is one of those movies that just grabs you by the balls from the first moment and doesn't let go until after the credits roll. It starts with a dynamic sequence, showing us a suburban dad who's just committed suicide in front of his family due to the sheriff's department – with Shannon's broker in tow – having arrived to evict them. In today's world, that's not an unfamiliar scene, and it kicks off a thoroughly engrossing and timely drama that depicts the lengths an honest man will go to in order to put a roof over his loved-ones heads.

Andrew Garfield plays said honest man, a broke construction worker supporting his young son (Noah Lomax) and his unemployed mother (Laura Dern) who helps raise her grandchild. The scene where Shannon comes to evict them is wrenching, with them – at first – trying to reason with him and the authorities, only for them to learn definitively that they've already lost their family home and that there's nothing they can do.

Sadly, it's a situation a lot of families have found themselves in the last few years, affecting people everywhere. The many families we see evicted have all kinds of backgrounds, from tradespeople out of work due to the housing market collapse, to former white-collar types who – faced with unemployment – can't even come close to sustaining the privileged lives they once led. The evictions are devastating, with suburbanites barely able to comprehend how they've truly lost everything and are now homeless. One especially sad sequence finds an old man literally being put out on the streets with no one to help him.

It would be easy to see Michael Shannon's venal broker as the bad guy, but to director Ramin Bahrani's credit, he's not strictly painted as a monster. He is a greedy opportunist, but Shannon coveys the fact that in his heart he truly believes that somebody is going to make money of this, so why not him? Shannon tries to give the character a bit of a soul, with him truly seeming to like Garfield as the younger man joins his inner circle. He also has a really interesting bit where he explains to Garfield just who exactly is to blame for the market they find themselves in, and it's tough not to find some truth in what he's saying.

If Shannon is playing a kind-of Iago character, slowly corrupting his charge, Garfield is the one with the meatiest part. He's instantly arresting as the put-upon family man, and consistently sympathetic, even when he's helping Shannon scam the government for hundreds of thousands. Watching him do this, it almost feels like he's getting revenge for how the government and the bailed-out bankers have treated him, although once he starts to go over the line, his conflict becomes a kind of Greek tragedy, which is driven home by the incredibly dramatic, thundering score by Antony Partos.

It can't help but feel like 99 HOMES comes along at just the right time, with the housing market still being a shambles, and people still finding themselves broke and homeless in a brutal economy. Bahrani's made an amazing movie and one that will likely strike a chord with audiences everywhere.

Review: 99 Homes (TIFF 2014)




About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.