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When Marvel and Sony announced that the webbed wonder would be returning home on some sort of shared custody agreement, the blogosphere cheered. Then a question crept up on them: what about Andrew Garfield? Garfield’s Peter Parker/Spider-Man was the second best thing about the Amazing series (behind Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy) and many wondered about how his career would now pan out.
Ramin Bahrani’s (Goodbye Solo) 99 Homes is set during the 2010 Foreclosure Crisis and deals with Rick Carver (Michael Shannon) a shark who likes to gamble with the real estate market, Wall Street Banks and the US Government. After evicting Dennis Nash (Garfield), Carver offers the desperate Nash a job and the pair soon begin corrupt dealings that help them achieve the American Dream.
Shannon, another superhero movie survivor, uses his eyes to great effect, gazing over Florida real estate before locking on to his unfortunate target and swindling him for all he’s worth. Shannon plays Carver like the vulture he is and he is worthy of his Golden-Globe nomination and should have been up for an Academy Award. But, when he’s onscreen alone, he is just Michael Shannon being the Michael Shannon audiences know, and Bahrani’s best decision was casting an actor with an opposite acting approach to play against him. It is this acting style conflict that really gets the drama going because the scenes Shannon and Garfield share are some of the best two-hander scenes of 2015.
Garfield’s on-the-sleeve style is sometimes difficult for directors to handle. Some, like David Fincher, keep Garfield stoic to make the payoff more satisfying when it comes, the laptop smashing scene in The Social Network springs to mind. Bahrani goes the other way with Garfield’s Nash not so much being a live wire but a constant explosion of emotion. The audience feels for Nash’s predicament and the pain is visible on Garfield’s face whenever Carver asks him to do something criminal. Sometimes, it gets too much, with certain scenes becoming almost embarrassing for both the audience and the characters.
Apart from the odd cringeworthy scene, Bahrani directs with a cool and efficient hand. Opening the film with a tracking shot that sets up the stakes of this immoral world, the audience is immediately immersed. Bahrani presents his usual socio-political themes in the style of a Tony Scott thriller and the result is a human story that will induce a nervous sweat.
Yet, the film has nothing new to say, with the overall message being the opposite of Gordon Gecko’s “greed is good” mantra. For all the socialist story points, he does not tell us anything new about the American Dream, presenting yet another version of success coming at a cost. Bahrani’s direction is a firecracker but the story is not that original.
99 Homes is an angry film that justifiably has distain for the greedy people who take from others, but its messages have been shouted since the age of F. Scott Fitzgerald. As for Garfield, if 99 Homes is taken as evidence, being unshackled from the superhero conveyor belt is probably the best thing for his career.
Sidenote: Laura Dern (Jurassic Park, The Master) may only play a concerned mother, but she plays concerned mother really well. Laura Dern needs to be in more movies, period.