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99 Homes

Year: 2014
Production Co: Broad Green Pictures
Director: Ramin Bahrani
Writer: Ramin Bahrani/Bahareh Azimi/Amir Naderi
Cast: Michael Shannon, Andrew Garfield, Laura Dern

It's a bit like a less showy version of The Big Short, with evil repossessed real estate predator Michael Shannon outlining the thesis in a single line – 'don't get emotional about real estate, it's just boxes'.

He plays Rick Carver, a Florida property shark working amid the imploding US economy, swooping in with two dedicated detectives to throw panicked and angry families out of their foreclosed homes, packaging resale deals for the banks and making off like a bandit in the process.

His latest victim is going to be Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield), a loving family man who lives with his mother (Laura Dern) and tween son and is trying depserately to keep a roof over their heads when he loses his only source of income as a construction worker.

As we've already seen Carver do, he comes to the Nash house, has the cops tell them they have only minutes to take what they need and leave the property and stands by like a vulture, steely eyed and immune to the wrenching emotional fallout, waiting to get his crews to change locks and remove appliances before moving on to the next job.

Dennis, his mother and son move to a flophouse motel and try to keep positive, but when he discovers one of the tools missing from his kit (part of the process after evictions is to take everything inside and dump it on the lawn) he suspects one of Carver's crew, fronting up to accuse the man and starting fisticuffs.

Carver happens to be there and finds himself short a technician to complete a home turnover, so he asks Dennis with a kind of pitiying amusement if he'll do it. The younger man, with no work and no prospects, has no choice but to agree.

Soon he's doing odd jobs for reposessions and recoveries all over town, and before long he's become Carver's right hand man, standing by cooly while people are thrown out of their homes just like he was, but swimming in money while doing it.

With a corporate housing deal on the horizon, Carver can see the big leagues approaching, making his company and staff big-end-of-town developers, Dennis set to profit very handsomely from the kind of actions and tactics he himself was a victim of.

It comes home to roost when a family he recently threw out shows up at the same motel he's living in, hurling abuse in the parking lot, but it's when he buys an opulent waterfront mansion (that his mother and son refuse to move into after finding out the truth about how he's made his money, leaving to live with other relatives) that Dennis realises he's soul his soul to the devil.

There's a third act plot turn concerning official corruption that turns Carver from a moral to a legal villain and thus wraps things up nicely for Dennis to go through the lake of redemptive fire, but it's not as smart as the rest of the film has been.

The casting of Shannon is brilliant here – he looks every bit the scumbag financial predator you imagine, all about the numbers and not caring about the emotional wreckage in his wake. But he's not a villain (until he is), he's a tiny cog in the enormous machinery that led to the 2008/2009 financial and housing crisis in America, something which tens of thousands of people from bank managers to US Presidents and Federal Reserve leaders presided over.

What writer/director Amin Bahrani does is humanise the crisis down on the ground and show you the people it affected, and he does so with as much dramatic honesty as he does political reality. And how interesting that a Middle Easterner (aided by writers and producers from the Middle East and partly paid for by a production company/film fund headquartered in Abu Dhabi) has made a story that's as grown up and quintessentially part of the fabric of modern America as you've seen in recent times.

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