Movie of the Week: 99 Homes (2014)

Ramin Bahrani directs Michael Shannon, Andrew Garfield and Laura Dern in this thumping drama about a struggling construction worker who joins the payroll of a callous evictions profiteer after he is dispossessed by the same man.

When they compile lists of the forgotten or overlooked classics of the last decade this will be prominent in all of them. A Sweet Smell of Success for home owners. A Wall Street for vapers. A muscular, unleashed, moving Glengarry Glen Ross. A Big Short not interested in smugly lionising or crassly humanising the corrupt suited scumbags who profit from the misery the system produces. Like all of the above films have their seductive devil figure, this one has Shannon. A beast of a character actor – imposing, righteous, untrustworthy. Here he justifies his role’s parasitic business practices with unwavering belief and ire. Watching him patiently de-house a family with scripted rigorousness and calm scheduled aggression is just one of a series of powerhouse scenes. For the first hour, 99 Homes plays like wave after wave of distressing panic attacks. The pace and the emotional impact, the constant intelligent distress Bahrani causes to his more sympathetic protagonist, and to us, is masterful. Then the corruption comes. Always gripping, never cloying this a financial thriller, a battle for a soul, relevant. Yet it does fumble the final moments. Reaching for an overly dramatic conclusion where Garfield’s ostensible hero can get away clean. It doesn’t achieve it. But for a film this ambitious and effective not to completely join its loop isn’t the end of the world. It is not exactly a happy ending, certainly not a falsely triumphant one.

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