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99 HOMES

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 Gordon 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 our times.

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 ones.

"A home isn't a room. A home isn't stuff. A home is a community. A home is a family. 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 realtors led 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 economist Joseph 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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