99 Homes


            Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield) is the kind of guy who makes America great.  He's young, energetic, hardworking, and amiable.  His particular trade is contruction; he can do anything from roofing to air conditioning to drywall.  The trouble is, the work has been drying up lately.  It's Orlando, Florida, in 2010, when the aftershocks of the housing bubble were really hitting home.  As in people actually losing their homes.  Dennis Nash had done what so many others had:  gotten himself overextended.  He's taken out a second mortgage to finance some house expansion on the old family homestead, so his young son Connor (Noah Lomax) and his Mom, Lynn (Laura Dern), who lives with them, could have their own space.  But Dennis Nash had gone from foreman to looking for any odd jobs to finding no work at all, just because of the downward economy.  He couldn't pay his bills, including his mortgage.  And suddenly he finds himself in court, begging the judge for more time, but there isn't any more time.  The bank has foreclosed.  Dennis goes home despondent, thinking he only has 30 days to clear out, when the sheriff and his deputy show up the next day to evict him.  Now.

            It's a sad, poignant scene.  Dennis and Laura are trying to argue and stall to no avail.  They are told they don't own the property any more, so they're trespassing.  They're told they have two minutes to gather absolute essentials:  checkbook, wallet, purse, car keys, maybe a couple of family photos.  Then they're escorted to the curb, and the rest of their stuff is put out on the lawn by a hired-hand crew waiting by the truck.  Presiding over this human tragedy is Rick Carver (Michael Shannon), who says he represents the bank.  And he's not there to be nice or negotiate or bargain for more time.  He's there to get them out of the house.  Now.

            Dennis Nash is reeling, of course, as is his son and his Mom, and all they know to do is drive to the cheap motel and rent a room for a couple of nights, somewhere to throw their stuff until they figure out what to do.  Except there isn't any figuring, and a couple of nights turns into indefinitely, like all the other evicted families at that motel.  Conor doesn't want to switch schools, of course, and he misses his friends.  But Lynn is a hairdresser, and she can gradually begin to develop new clients there, and work out of their cramped little apartment.  But Dennis?  All he knows to do is go storm the office of that Rick Carver guy, demanding his tools back from a worker he's convinced stole them from him.

            The ensuing fight on the parking lot at least gets Dennis noticed by Rick Carver, who can smell opportunity from a distance.  He gets a call about a particularly nasty foreclosure: the tenants had purposefully backed up the toilets before they left in a rage, and spray-painted angry graffiti on the walls.  Rick Carver looks at Dennis and sees a guy desperate enough to do any work, including, yes, cleaning up raw sewage, that stinks so bad it makes him throw up.  But now the employer-employee relationship is established.  Rick Carver begins to trust Dennis to do repair on other sites, and pretty soon has introduced him to his shadowy, flim-flam world of serial foreclosure.  It seems that there are some profitable shortcuts available, also, like removing air conditioning units and pool pumps, and then taking photographs of the empty concrete pedastals, and submitting them to Fannie Mae for free replacement. And then selling the originals on the black market. (Sure, it's illegal, but who's going to catch them?)  Dennis gets caught up in this world, because he tells himself this is the only way he can provide for his family.  Rick Carver tells him there are guys who go under and guys who get rich, and he wants to be one of the guys who get rich.  He just has to take advantage of opportunities when he sees them, and then be tough, unyielding, and resolute.  They all have sob stories, but he isn't a social worker.

            The battle, of course, is for the soul of Dennis Nash.  And Andrew Garfield plays him just winsomely enough for us to feel his pain on the precipice of every slippery slope.


Questions For Discussion:

1)                  When have you been tempted to cut corners when you knew it wasn't right?

2)                  What would you do if you were told that you had to get out of your house right now?  What things would you try to carry out with you?

3)                  How can you keep from getting financially overextended?


Dr. Ronald P. Salfen is the Supply Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Kaufman, Texas