99 Homes is a harrowing examination of modern America, where the vampires play...

99 Homes
Director: Ramin Bahrani
 THE 2008 FINANCIAL CRISIS LAY WASTE TO WORKING CLASS COMMUNITIES throughout the United States. Such was the devastation that many have never fully recovered; all you need to do is take a walk through some of the near empty and dilapidated suburbs in some of the major cities for evidence of that.

While the banks, largely responsible for the crisis , were helpfully bailed out by an Obama administration that had promised 'progressive change', ordinary people were left to fend for themselves. They became 'easy meat' for the vampires of a rapacious economic system. It was socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor. And capitalism bled the people dry.

In 2008, over 800,000 people lost their homes to foreclosure - an increase of 81 percent on the previous year. There were over three million foreclosure notices issued in 2008. But the statistics hide rather than reveal the individual lives destroyed, while the sharks on Wall Street continued to help themselves to fat bonuses for 'a job well done'.

The strength of 99 Homes (the title is a reference to the 1 percent-versus-99 percent slogan popularised by the Occupy movement), is that it starkly reminds us that there are real people behind the statistics. It is a tough and uncompromising look at the venality of an economic system that kills people. As the foreclosures steadily mounted, so did the suicides.

99 Homes opens at the scene of such a suicide: in a blood-spattered bathroom in a Florida home where a man has killed himself rather than be evicted. In the rooms are gathered the police and sobbing family members - and real estate broker and property developer Rick Carver (Michael Shannon). He's upset that the inconsiderate suicide will delay him turning a tidy profit on the resale of the property.

Rick Carver makes Wall Street's Gordon Gekko look like a Sunday school teacher. No one is safe from him, With the assistance of the local police, he doesn't discriminate as to who he evicts - young, old, single, families, the infirm. He is a vampire carving up the victims of American capitalism for his own benefit.

One of Carver’s victims is an underemployed construction worker, Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield), a single dad living in his family home with his son and his mother (Laura Dern), a hairdresser. He has been futilely fighting eviction through a corrupt legal system that is stacked in favour of people like Carver.

When his family is forced to move to a seedy motel, Nash, in his desperation, begins working for Carver. He goes to work for the vampire and almost becomes one himself.

Unlike Gordon Gekko, who was mostly a cartoonesque 'baddy' that we could easily dismiss, Rick Carver is all the more disturbing because he's....one of us. Or was, once. At one point he says that he got into the property game to put people into homes, not kick them out. But then the housing bubble burst. Then it became a matter of survival: “I have two daughters, I wasn't going to let them live in some hotel. America doesn’t bail out losers, America was built by bailing out winners.”

He explains at one point: 'I didn’t kick you out, the bank did.”

At a press conference last year director Ramin Bahrani was at pains to stress that it was capitalism that was the real villain, not Rick Carver

" ...the real devil is the system that created him. When the Libor scandal hit and banks were fined billions, they still made ten-fold more and nobody went to jail. When figures run the biggest for-profit banks involved in this corruption, then go into public office, then back into the banks? You don’t need an MBA to know this system is rigged.”

This is a powerful movie with fine performances from Andrew Garfield, Michael Shannon and Laura Dern. 99 Homes stands as an important movie about working class and, increasingly, middle class America.

One of the best films of 2015.


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