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'99 Homes' review: Gripping thriller about housing foreclosures

From left, Michael Shannon, Andrew Garfield and Noah

From left, Michael Shannon, Andrew Garfield and Noah Lomas in a scene from "99 Homes." Credit: AP

The tragedy happens quickly: Dennis Nash, a construction worker, is evicted from his home along with his mother and young son. After a two-minute grace period to gather a few belongings, the Nashes watch as a construction crew dumps their furniture on the lawn. And who's this well-dressed guy holding the deed to their home? That's Rick Carver, a real-estate mogul who's grown rich by flipping foreclosed properties.

"My advice is to get a delivery truck," Carver tells the family, "because your neighbors are going to have access to everything you own by the end of the day."

It's a shattering scene, and not the last of its kind, in "99 Homes," a story of greed and desperation set in 2010 in Orlando during the housing crisis. Its star is Andrew Garfield ("The Amazing Spider-Man") as the suddenly homeless Dennis, but the movie is ruled by Michael Shannon ("Boardwalk Empire") as Carver. Shannon, an actor whose default expression conveys barely controlled rage, plays Carver as the walking incarnation of capitalism's ugliest truth: Where there's a loser, there's always a winner.

"99 Homes" begins in earnest when Carver gallingly offers Dennis a low-paying job he clearly can't refuse. Carver sees something else in Dennis, though, and brings him into his unpleasant but highly profitable eviction business. Old people, poor people, couples with newborns -- Dennis ejects them all, chokes down his conscience and cashes the checks so he can put a roof over the heads of his own family (Laura Dern and Noah Lomax). Carver's methods aren't 100 percent legal, but who's the real thief -- Carver, the banks or all those homeowners who spent beyond their means?

"99 Homes" is never preachy -- Shannon sees to that -- and always engrossing. Filmed with a documentary-style immediacy and paced as tightly as a thriller by director and co-writer Ramin Bahrani ("Man Push Cart"), it's the rare movie that works as sobering commentary and riveting entertainment.

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