Short Takes: 99 Homes

(Ramin Bahrani, U.S., 2014)

Ten years after Ramin Bahrani’s Man Push Cart, it’s hard not to admire the filmmaker’s success at marshaling multi-million-dollar social dramas with big movie stars. Say what you will about his 2012 At Any Price, but with 99 Homes, Bahrani puts a bona fide Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield) to work mopping up shit in a sewage-flooded house (while also giving Michael Shannon a red-meat role as a good-ol’-boy real-estate shark).

Go-getting Garfield plays Dennis Nash, a handyman who defaults on the house he shares with his mother (the ageless Laura Dern) and son. In Bahrani’s explicitly spelled-out exploit-or-be-exploited story, Nash swallows his ethics and takes a job with wealthy Mike Carver (Shannon) repossessing homes and engaging in various other money-making hijinks of dubious legality. But until he can wrest back ownership of his family’s house, at the end of the day he still goes home to live in a crowded strip motel with mom and kid, beset by the loud music of other long-term residents.

There’s something to be said for broadcasting the galling cash-in mentality of the Aughts housing-market scandal as loudly and clearly as Bahrani does here, in a screenplay co-written with Iranian director Amir Naderi. But the film feels far too cut-and-dried, right down to Mike’s booming Speech About America (which was made, in case you’re wondering, by and for the winners).