Sometimes, film festival programmers are their own worst enemies. Read the blurb Toronto’s Jane Schoettle wrote for Ramin Bahrani’s “99 Homes,” the one that calls it “an intimate and moving chronicle of a family that has become one of the many casualties of a culture of relentless consumption and economic overextension.” Would you slot that into your schedule? (Spoiler: I didn’t.) But based on the rave notices from Venice, where the movie starring Michael Shannon and Andrew Garfield as cold-blooded Realtors foreclosing on ill-advised homeowners in the wake of the U.S.’ housing bust, I’m tearing up my TIFF schedule (and not for the first time) to find room. Critics are already likening Shannon’s performance to Michael Douglas’ iconic turn as “Wall Street’s” Gordon Gekko, a new-millennium equivalent to Douglas’ embodiment of ’80s greed, and the calls to put him into the Oscar race can’t be far behind.
Reviews of “99 Homes”
Nicholas Barber, BBC
A propulsive, streamlined, yet weighty drama. Its director and co-writer, Ramin Bahrani, is a Venice festival favourite who has made several muted parables about America’s dispossessed, but “99 Homes” proves that he can also make thrillingly urgent mainstream entertainment without turning his back on the harsh realities of life on the breadline.
Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter
Carrying a title that implicitly references the 99/1 percent divide so frequently used to describe what ails the country and much of the world, “99 Homes” passionately remonstrates against contemporary economic conditions that suggest that, in real life rather than Capraland, Lionel Barrymore’s greedy old Mr. Potter in “It’s a Wonderful Life” actually has prevailed over humanity’s better instincts. While “At Any Price,” Ramin Bahrani’s previous dramatic look at how tough things have become for so many working Americans, never found its audience, this, his sixth feature, might stand a better shot with the public since it’s pointedly designed to make your blood boil.
Peter Bradshaw, Guardian
Ramin Bahrani has established himself as a film-maker with a flair for dramatising the experiences of new immigrant communities in the United States, with excellent pictures like “Man Push Cart” and “Goodbye Solo.” The same compassion is here, but the engines of drama and confrontation have been revved up an awful lot more. “99 Homes” is an exciting and emotionally grandstanding drama about temptation, shame, humiliation and greed — and it’s got something to say about America’s toxic-loan slump and how the taxpayer-funded bailout created a bonanza for big businesses who could make money out of the recession.
Guy Lodge, Variety
Following the lead of 2012’s underrated “At Any Price” in matching the socially conscious topicality of Bahrani’s early films to the demands of broader-brush melodrama, this dynamically acted, unapologetically contrived pic reps the filmmaker’s best chance to date of connecting with a wider audience — one likely to share the helmer’s bristling anger over corruptly maintained class divides in modern-day America.
Robbie Collin, Telegraph
Perhaps Bahrani is invoking Brian De Palma’s “Scarface” in the Florida setting: Certainly, Carver’s nihilistic state-of-the-nation rants recall Tony Montana in his self-actualising pomp, and Shannon delivers them with Tyrannosaur charisma. This is a ripe and vigorous return to form: a timely, terrifically acted moral nail-biter.
Jessica Kiang, Playlist
While neither subtle nor particularly nuanced, the blunt force trauma impact of its narrative never feels exploitative, being wholly justified by the importance of its themes. “Importance” is such a loaded, off-putting word, but it’s the right one in this context, because while Bahrani’s filmmaking skill and the excellent performances convincingly sell the experience of the film almost as a genre thriller or a Scorsese-esque, descent-into-madness gangster picture, those of us not directly affected by the housing collapse will nonetheless emerge with a better understanding of its terrible human toll, one all too easy to push aside when it is reduced to statistics and demographics.
Jo-Ann Titmarsh, Hey U Guys
Bahrani’s is a damning tale of how corporate society screws the average American and how easy it is to become powerless against the might of the law, the banks and the government. But it is also a moral tale of a man’s journey through some of the inner circles of this fiscal hell. Dern and Garfield put in great performances, and Guinee excels as a beacon of dignity but it is Shannon’s portrayal of this ambiguous and multifaceted character that truly shines in this excellent film.
Alonso Duralde, the Wrap
It’s hard to buy a dramatic moral in a world of too-big-to-fail, where bailouts turn into bonuses for bankers who should, by rights, be behind bars. Bahrani (and co-writer Amir Naderi) want the audience to go to the dark side with them without losing their faith in the system. To anyone who has watched this crisis unfold over the last decade, it will feel like a cheat.
John Bleasdale, CineVue
As with 2012’s “At Any Price” — which also screened at Venice – Bahrani’s movie sheds light on an under- represented, marginalised America — in the previous case that of big agro-business — and he’s finding a rich dramatic vein out there. With “99 Homes,” he’s created a complex and thoughtful political drama with the speed and tension of a good thriller.