by director/co-writer Ramin Bahrani
From the moment I went to Florida to begin researching the screenplay for 99 Homes, I was made instantly dizzy by a bombardment of mindboggling corruption, endless scams, guns, violence and heartbreaking and emotional stories of middle-class American families. I quickly realized 99 Homes was going to be a very fast-paced, tense, social thriller structured as a Faustian “deal with the devil” story.
99 Homes is the true story of tens of millions of Americans who lost their homes and lives or were impacted by the economic crisis. I wanted to find the real human stories behind the headlines. The film focuses on Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield) walking a moral tightrope to protect his mother Lynn (Laura Dern) and his young son Connor (Noah Lomax) after being evicted by the real estate tycoon, Rick Carver (Michael Shannon). Carver is the “devil” in the deal, but the real devil is the system that created Rick, Dennis and their haywire world. The system that left so many Americans wondering, can honest hard work get us anywhere in a system that seems rigged by the ‘winners’ against the ‘losers?’
During my research in Florida, I spent time with fraud attorneys, in foreclosure courts (a.k.a. the “rocket dockets” where judges decide cases in 60 seconds flat), with real estate brokers—all of whom carried guns—and in motels off highway 192, where in the shadow of Disney World, middle class families and children lived next to gang members, prostitutes and day laborers.
The film incorporates real people into scenes with my main cast. The sheriff who conducts evictions is a real sheriff who has personally evicted people (he also happens to be a talented actor); the clean-out crew that dumps people’s belongings to the curb are all real; and when Andrew Garfield knocks on doors to evict people, every other person is a real person in their real homes. Andrew had no idea which were actors and which were real. I never told him who was on the other side of the door or what was going to happen—it might be an elderly man, a Hispanic family that doesn’t speak English or a man with a gun.
99 Homes doesn’t take sides. Instead, it presents the main characters’ differing views of home and morality and allows them to battle it out over the course of the film with an ending that asks the viewer to continue the conversation. I hope audiences will leave talking about what they may have done in Dennis’s or Rick’s situation, about how far they would go to protect their family. I hope the anger and empathy the film creates can help us reassess where we are as a society, as I am sure we are much more than just “winners” and “losers.”