BY ROGER THOMAS
“99 Homes” is one of those small movies one might overlook as bigger and flasher films are filling the multiplex.
This autumn has produced several impressive spectacle films such as “The Walk,” “Everest” and “The Martian.” All of these films should be seen. However, the lesser films, less epic stories and expensive effects such as “99 Homes” also deserve an audience.
“99 Homes” tells the story of a young man named Dennis, played by Andrew Garfield, who witnesses the foreclosure of his family’s home. He has grown up in that house. Before the forced eviction, he resides in the home with his mother, played by Laura Dern, and his young son. After being escorted from their home, they end up in a hotel with other families who have experienced the same process. At first, Dennis is hopeful his family will only stay a couple of days. That hope is soon shattered.
When Dennis, who has worked construction most of his adult life, discovers his tools are missing, he goes to see the realtor who led the eviction. After a brief conversation, the realtor offers him a job and Dennis changes sides. He goes to work for the real estate agent who orchestrated his foreclosure.
There are many strengths in the film. The two leads, Garfield and Michael Shannon, present very passionate characters. Garfield is, of course, known especially as the most recent “Spider-Man” but he has also done significant work in “The Social Network” and the very first film I saw him in 2007, “Boy A.”
Michael Shannon, an Oscar nominee for “Revolutionary Road,” has delivered intense performances for many years. My personal favorite is “Take Shelter.” Together, these two leads create an acting duet that grips the viewer intensely.
The film also boasts a powerful screenplay. The most iconic speech from the screenplay is overheard during the film’s trailer and delivered with great passion by Michael Shannon: “Do you think America cares about you or me? America does not bail out the losers. America was built bailing out the winners by creating a nation of the winners, for the winners, by the winners.”
You do not have to agree with Rick Carver’s speech to know there are many who believe his words are gospel. The story and dialogue of this film will inspire thought and conversation, which is about the very best thing a film can do for anyone.
Ultimately however, “99 Homes” is a film about the descent into evil. At the beginning of the film, Dennis (Garfield) is an innocent young man trying to do the very best he can for his family. It is easy to respect him and even want to help him out. As his association with Rick Carver increases, Dennis changes.
This is a morality play. The apprentice is taken in by the master, and so begins the transformation. Years ago, on the television series “Smallville,” I heard a quote that I think I have quoted before in a review. The quote, spoken by Lex Luther, was this: “Becoming evil is not a light switch, it is a journey.” As I watched young Dennis go from a desperate man who wanted to do right by his mother and son to being the right arm of Carver, those words about the “journey” kept echoing in my mind.
There are certainly flashier films out there right now. But for great acting, an intense story and an interesting perspective of modern America, “99 Homes” delivers.
Oh, by the way, sadly, this film is based on true events.
Roger Thomas is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association. He reviews films for The Stanly News & Press.