What Would You Do To Save Your Home?
At heart, 99 HOMES unfolds in the tradition of the classic criminal-mentor
story -- a theme in
Hollywood that has spanned from Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason in THE HUSTLER to
Gekko and his stockbroker protege in WALL STREET. But unlike previous
incarnations, 99 HOMES
is set in a world rarely seen in cinema, a unique financial realm that
coldheartedly divides the haves and
have-nots, a world that is stacked against the "little guy," yet welcomes
corrupt bankers to get rich with
impunity. In order to learn from Rick Carver, Dennis Nash must blind himself to
the damage he knows
housing seizures cause to men like himself.
"When Dennis Nash starts working for Rick Carver, initially it's only for
money - and Dennis
believes he's truly doing honest work," notes Ramin Bahrani. "But then the
deceptions begin when he
lies to his family about working for Carver, and when he's suddenly asked to
evict other families, he
has a lot to weigh. As Rick says to him, "you did honest, hard work building
homes your whole life,
and what did it get you but me knocking on your door to evict you? That's a
question a lot of people
have been asking."
Though the story hinges on of-the-moment realities, the film is structured
with the breathless
suspense of a thriller, something new for Bahrani. He says the more research he
did on the reality of
forced evictions, the more he realized all the key elements of the suspense
genre - the high anxiety, the
lurid temptations, even the deadly weapons -- were already organically there.
"One thing I learned is that all real estate brokers involved in foreclosures
carry guns because
there's a risk of violence every day," he explains. "It's a field where
corruption and temptation are
rampant and there's a long history of scams and forgeries, so it's on the edge
of the crime world."
99 HOMES is also very much about clashing definitions of what home means in
Home may have once been the private hearth where a family connected, but
today, homes have become
- especially for wheeler-dealers like Carver - a hot global commodity and
investment for the superwealthy.
Carver's own home is an opulent luxury palace, but it means little to him since
he plans to flip
it in a few months for a profit. Meanwhile for someone like Nash, even a very
modest home is the
essence of his being - the symbol of his ability to build a haven for his loved
"A home isn't a room. A home isn't stuff. A home is a community. A home is a
home is people together," observes Andrew Garfield. "And when you take away that
thing that defines
you ... what do you have left?"
Adds Laura Dern: "So many of us believe in the idea that a home evokes
safety, but what is so
scary in 99 HOMES is that the homes of these families become the place where you
are not safe at all."
Michael Shannon says he views home very differently from Rick Carver. "Being
an actor is a
very nomadic lifestyle so you are always trying to find a home wherever you are
- that's why home for
me is much more about the people that you are with than the actual structure.
And I think one of the
beautiful things in 99 HOMES is that Andrew realizes that even though he has
these opportunities for a
more luxurious home and more money, it's not going to be worth it if he loses
his family in the process.
He sees that when the people who you love are with you, it doesn't really matter
where you are."
The irreconcilable differences between struggling homeowners and wealthy
Bahrani to his title. On the one hand, the title refers to the big payday Carver
and Nash are hustling
towards. But in addition, Bahrani liked that 99 HOMES echoes Nobel Prize-winning
Stiglitz's coining of the now-ubiquitous phrase "the 99%" - referring to the
vast majority of the world's
populace who don't enjoy the mega-wealth of the 1%, who partake in nearly a
quarter of the world's
riches. The purchasing of a home for the 99% is very often the greatest dream of
a lifetime, the endpoint
rather than one more move in a vast, scheming game.
Concludes Bahrani: "The idea of home is something very emotional for most
people and at the
center of those emotions is family. So that's why a home becomes something so
powerful to an
ordinary man when it is suddenly ripped away."
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