The Death of the American Dream in 99 Homes

99 Homes

Michael Shannon’s character Rick Carver spouts some great lines in the tense and heartbreaking new film from Ramin Bahrani, 99 Homes.  At one point he tells his morally conflicted protégé in crooked evictions and house flipping, Dennis Nash (played by Andrew Garfield, raw but with a somewhat questionable Southern accent), “America doesn’t bail out losers.  America bails out winners.  It was made of, for and by winners.”  Yeah, eff the People!  No…what?  Wait a minute.  It was moments like that, where sitting in a near empty theater on the weekend of this indie’s wider release into multiplexes, I thought that a savvier studio would be playing the line in endless teaser loops and marketing this as the flip side to Scorsese’s Wolf of Wall Street.  Maybe that would’ve gotten more people into the seats.  But the wounds 99 Homes pours salt on are too fresh… and as successful as it is from a tactical perspective (well-written, well-acted, well-directed and timely), I don’t know if this could ever be a financial hit.

In the fall-out of the housing crisis, Florida-based construction worker/everyday handyman Dennis Nash suddenly has no new homes to build and loses the one he shares with his part-time hairdresser Mom (Laura Dern – the epitome of lower-middle class optimism and angst) and young son (Noah Lomax) to foreclosure.  Into his life steps the non-nonsense, slick-talking, worn down but looking up real-estate agent, Rick Carver, who evicts default homeowners and then runs crooked deals to flip the houses where he screws the banks and the government (and anyone else who he crosses paths with).  Carver offers Nash a helping hand, but it’s akin to making a deal with the devil, and he keenly warns Nash, “Real estate should never be personal.  Don’t get sentimental about a house.  It’s just a box.”  But it’s a box that represents the American Dream for so many, who through predatory lending practices, got screwed out of their homes after the housing bubble crash of 2008 that sent the US and the world tumbling into the Great Recession. Continue reading

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Animal Kingdom

In the opening scene of David Michod’s Australian crime saga, Animal Kingdom, a Melbourne teenager named J (James Frecheville) sits stone-faced and clueless after his mom dies from a drug overdose.  After the police drag the body away, he calls up the only person he knows will come through for him, his previously estranged but all too willing to reconnect grandmother, Janine (Jacki Weaver in a performance that deserves awards’ buzz).  Janine just happens to be the proud and perky lioness ruling a family of small time bank-robbers and drug-dealers.  The eldest, “Pope” (Ben Mendelsohn) is a loose cannon on the cops’ most-wanted list.  J quickly gets caught up in the middle of a mess after the cops take out a family friend resulting in a gangland retaliation, and a detective (Guy Pearce) becomes determined to use the impressionable J against his uncles.

Michod weaves an intermittently compelling tale that is part coming-of-age story and part mob flick spun Down Under.  His framing and mise-en-scene is technically sound but sometimes too self-conscious, and the slow-paced editing makes the film seem longer than it is and hinders some of the drama.  Continue reading