There is a danger in making a film, or any piece of art, about any kind of current events. When stripped of context, any statement will seem to be little more than an expression of bias and radical politics. That is not to say great art has never said anything of value concerning the time it was made in, but merely that there is a tightrope that must be crossed to get deliver the message with any kind of intelligence. In 99 Homes, directed and co-written by Ramin Bahrani, the theme at hand is the housing crisis, and the question on my mind was how he would talk about this subject that impacted so many people so recently.
To be honest, I don't even know if he did. Everything about the movie is so simple, and I'm not really sure who it was made for. The social message is so broad and implicit that I don't think it's a film made to deliver a point, but, at the same time, the story itself is deeply clichéd, basically being something out of ancient Greek tragedy. It ultimately lacks perspective.
The basic narrative is that a man and his family was evicted from their home, and, in order to make the money to go back, he has to do the same to other people in the same situation. It's a powerful story on its own, but there just isn't any complexity beyond this premise. The characters are purely archetypical, a hero with a tragic downfall, a pure villain, and a series of thinly-written characters that serve merely as plot-devices. There are no moral gray-areas in the film, no complex questions asked, no philosophical or ideological value to it. It's the worst kind of unimpressive, the kind where I feel like I didn't really get anything out of it beyond what I already knew.
In the film's favor, however, the acting is rather impressive, particularly from leading man Andrew Garfield. There wasn't a single moment where I feel like he's acting; his emotions are raw and extreme, but he never overacts, even in the biggest expressions. Opposite him is the brilliantly villainous Michael Shannon, who, rather than feeling grounded, plays up the character's pure evil to a cartoonish extent. Somehow, though, the two play off each other in a way that never breaks immersion. It creates a level of depth that the rest of the film fails to deliver that makes it work beyond everything else and takes an otherwise subpar work to genuine profundity.
Ultimately, however, the entire film is just too shallow to really care about, no matter how much I enjoyed its better qualities. Bahrani shows a real talent and passion for his work, just like everyone else involved in the movie, but everything about it could have been far better if everyone just worked slightly harder, cared slightly more.