Movie Review: 99 Homes

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Have you ever been watching Comedy Central at 2 A.M. and when the commercials come on, one of those Sarah McLachlan animal abuse fundraisers shows up, or the one about the African children starving to death, and then Comcast freezes up and you can’t change the channel?  That’s kind of what it’s like to interrupt a perfectly good day to catch a screening of 99 Homes.  It’s depressing sadness forcefully injected right into your eyeballs.

The film, if you’ve never heard of it (but it made $900,000 at the box office!), is the newest project from critically acclaimed director that I’ve never heard of, Ramin Bahrani, who has previously made a handful of critically acclaimed, festival winning films that I’ve never heard of such as Man Push Cart, Goodbye Solo, and Plastic Bag…  These all sound very important and very independent, so it makes sense he gets to tackle the housing market in 99 Homes, another film that most people at get-togethers will say “never heard of it” if you ask them about it.  But 99 Homes cost $8 million to make.  “Bahrani practically works for Marvel Films now, am I right?” – Says bitter, less successful Venice Film Festival runner-up Colby Whitehouse, director of Leaves of Winter; a movie and person I just made up, but could easily exist.

Andrew Garfield (R.I.P. Non-Tobey Spider-Man) plays a construction worker that gets evicted from his home by a bank-hired real estate mogul played by genuinely scary looking actor Michael Shannon.  The twist is that Shannon’s character ends up hiring Garfield’s character to evict other people from their homes.  The evictee becomes the evictOR!  Ha!  Except, you can replace that laughter mostly with the sounds of families crying.

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This is the kind of movie that makes you really think about how many confused elderly men with recently deceased wives and no other family contacts or places to go getting thrown out of their lifelong homes and onto the cold, unforgiving streets it takes before you start to tear up a little?  One.  For me the answer was one.  Holy crap, I should have just bought a ticket for Hotel Transylvania 2 instead, and not have had to think about how terrible the world is for the entire ride home.

But don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this is a bad movie.  Actually it is about a real problem that we all kind of know about, but none of us can really actively do anything about anymore.  I guess a good lesson learned to take away from this, which I will give to you now, so that you don’t have to sit through the deafening sadness that is this movie; is not to borrow a ton of money from the bank that you don’t realistically have the capabilities to pay back for your houses.  It probably won’t work out too hot for you.  Unless you *enjoy* permanently living in a motel?

You could say that this movie even borders on *important*.  You could also say, though, that it is a devastating thing to sit through, as “action packed” as it is.  If you really feel the need to subject yourself to watching dozens of people get thrown out of their houses for the sake of seeing an important social issue movie, then by all means, this is your best option.  Social issue your heart out, pal!

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If you really look at it critically, though, from a filmmaking perspective, it’s actually a bit of a dully shot film.  Nothing about it really screams cinematic.  All of the shot blocking and cinematography is remarkably unmemorable.  It has some great tension (and an edge-of-your-seat ending sequence), but it also felt kind of plodded together overall.  As much praise as Andrew Garfield and Michael Shannon are getting for their performances from the film festival bloggers; I thought Garfield was way better in The Social Network, and Michael Shannon has given wayyyyyy more scary pants-crapping worthy performances in other things.  It’s like a by-the-books film production with an above average story line.

But I would go as far as to say that 99 Homes is probably a good movie.  I would say that it’s a strong competitor for a whole bunch of Independent Spirit Awards.  I would also probably not recommend it to anybody, unless you really want to feel sad about stuff you probably can’t change.  But the real question is whether or not 99 Homes tops Bahrani’s Plastic Bag?  Or, does Bahrani’s Plastic Bag top American Beauty‘s plastic bag video?  Is it an adaptation?  Does the bag fly in the wind?  Does it hold the salad dressing and toilet paper I just bought?  We’ll never know…  …unless you attended the Telluride Film Festival in 2009.

7.5 out of 10

 

IMPORTANT POST REVIEW NOTE:  I just watched the 18 minute Ramin Bahrani short film Plastic Bag on YouTube, and it’s narrated by Werner Herzog and scored by Sigur Ros, and thought it was better than 99 Homes (mostly because of Werner Herzog).  My apologies to Mr. Bahrani and to plastic bags everywhere.  But even his funny, satirical life-of-a-plastic-bag short film has a deep message about how much humans suck.  I bet if you met Bahrani at a party, he’d argue with you for drinking beer out of an aluminum can, and then trap you in a corner and talk about African warlords while everyone else is having fun.

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