How does a film about the housing market crisis grab you? Whoop whoop! You’re hoiking your trainers on and sprinting down to your local multiplex as we speak! No? Well you ought to, for 99 Homes is easily the most intelligent and gripping film The Sloth has seen so far this year. Trust us.
Nash (Andrew Garfield) is a single father in Florida, struggling to make ends meet with dead end, ad hoc construction work. Trouble is, being in dead end, ad hoc jobs, he’s not been able to pay his mortgage instalments and the court has ordered repossession. We meet him as real estate agent Rick Carver (Michael Shannon) is coldly turfing Nash, his young son and Nash’s mother (Laura Dern) out on the street.
Relocated to a cheap motel and desperate for money, Nash is offered a labouring job by Carver. Overcoming his aversion he accepts, being careful to conceal from his family the not insignificant fact that he is working for the man who ruined their lives. Before long, the slick, moneyed and predatory Carver suggests he start working for him full time, first as a handyman but then as a repossession agent himself. Nash, with only a modicum of reflection, accepts. Then faces the moral cost of earning cash at the expense of human suffering.
99 Homes is so, so much more than a film about the property market. It’s a morality play with echoes of Greek tragedy, plus a good slice of poetry thrown in. Dr Faustus may be the obvious comparison, but the script (co-written by director Ramin Bahrami) is littered with evocative images and metaphors bordering on the Shakespearean, from Nash’s descriptions of himself as drowning, or Carver’s (whose name is hardly a coincidence) warning that Florida’s “gators never sleep”.
This isn’t an easy watch but it’s an important film that is not just about housing, but about human greed. And the actors rise to the same level as the script. Andrew Garfield in particular gives an outstanding performance, his conflicting emotions and desperation written all over his face. Go see it. And be afraid.
UK release 25 September