Ramin Bahrani’s phenomenal 99 Homes draws you in by means of a captivating and sound narrative, making the audacious actions of those preying on the disenfranchised all the more impactful. Like A Separation, 99 Homes uses an everyday commonplace event as the background for an enthralling thriller—a thriller that excels because of its meaningful story.
Main Character and single father Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield) finds himself driven from the only home he has ever known (Main Character Throughline of Situation, Main Character Issue of Security). Evicted and unemployable, Nash turns to realtor Rick Carver (Michael Shannon) for work (Story Driver of Action, Main Character Approach of Do-er). Nash is a man who will do whatever it takes to get a job done, and whatever it takes to provide for his family (Main Character Problem of Process). While this makes it easy for him to wade through a house full of literal shit, it also blinds him to the damage he inflicts by helping Carver to kick people out (Overall Story Concern of Doing, Story Costs of Impulsive Responses).
Carver could care less, having figured out long ago that his path—as despicable as it may seem—was chosen for him (Influence Character Problem of Determination). Carver doesn’t see homes, he sees boxes. Big boxes and little boxes (Influence Character Unique Ability of Value). Regardless of what sob story he or Nash may hear the day of the eviction, the fact of the matter remains that these individuals borrowed money that they can’t pay back. It’s a system that can’t be beat—only embraced (Overall Story Problem of Process). The house wasn’t even the victim’s to begin with—that’s why they have to leave (Overall Story Symptom of Unending, Overall Story Response of Ending).
Nash looks up to Carver in what could almost be considered a father/son relationship (or at the very least, a mentor/mentee relationship). Propelled by the hunch that they both need each other, they engage each other’s services (Relationship Story Problem of Hunch). The father figure manipulates and coerces the young man into thinking of himself as less the bad guy and more of a victim of circumstances (Relationship Story Throughline of Manipulation, Relationship Story Concern of Playing a Role). This is the life that has been chosen for them, so best not to read too much into it (Relationship Story Issue of Thought).
Carver’s cold calculated demeanor is the very thing that inspires Nash to action, challenging the hapless father to examine his motivation for aiding and abetting the power elite (Influence Character Throughline of Fixed Attitude, Influence Character Concern of Impulsive Responses). Faced with the ramifications of his actions—his mother and son abandoning him, the father of his son’s best friend holding the police at bay with a rifle—Nash finally gives up the fight and admits to his wrongdoing (Main Character Solution of Results, Main Character Resolve Changed)—thinking that this will somehow win the day and change things around for everyone…
…but note how we are not given the outcome of his change. The Story Outcome is left unanswered save for some strange authorities approaching Carver and vaguely asking him to identify himself. Does this signify Failure? Did Nash’s change of heart finally expose Carver’s nefarious activities to the point where they will be stopped? Or will Carver somehow be able to buy these guys out and continue on as he always has—which would mean a Success story? Leaving this all important story point to the imagination is often the death of most narratives. How then can 99 Homes account for its critical acclaim?
And that’s where the artistry comes in.
Carver needed to secure 100 homes in order to complete the deal. This last home—the one belonging to the father of Nash’s son’s best friend—was the hundredth and last home they needed. Nash saved this one from the chopping block—but what about the others?
The title contains the answer. Nash may have saved this one, but the 99? They still went through. Why else call the movie 99 Homes? It’s a brilliant move by a talented writer and director, one that will go unnoticed by many—but felt subconsciously as a result of a solid storyform.
Carver approaches those authorities with the confidence of a man who knows he is not beat—a man who knows he will continue doing what he has always done (Influence Character Issue of Confidence). Nash feels great about what he did (Story Judgment of Good)—but we feel strangely so. The combination of a Story Outcome of Success with a Story Judgment of Good marks this film a Triumph—making it a celebratory event along the lines of Star Wars or Top Gun. Unfortunately in this film, we celebrate the success of the bad guy.
99 Homes is a solid and complete narrative that deserves a place on many a Best of list. The performances, soundtrack, and direction only compound the positive effects of a great story. Effective narrative gives meaning to the meaningless, a place to understand and comprehend the chaos of carelessness. 99 Homes does more than entertain, it inspires.
The image above is taken from the Story Engine window of Dramatica Story Expert. Story points in BLUE represent choices made by the user. Story points in RED reflect implied story elements provided by Dramatica.
The complete story engine settings report for 99 Homes: