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The Crisis Behind '99 Homes' — And How It Fueled The Film's Script


When you think about the housing crisis of 2008 that led to the Great Recession, you think about Wall Street bankers and bailouts and foreclosed homes. A new film out this week reminds us that behind every one of those homes were people. The film is called "99 Homes," and it stars Michael Shannon as a real estate broker who evicts people from houses that have been foreclosed on, and then he buys up the homes for a profit. In this scene, Shannon's character, Rick Carver, talks about how he grew up the son of a failed construction worker.


MICHAEL SHANNON: (As Rick Carver) Now, do you think I'm going to let that happen to me? You think America in 2010 gives a flying rat's [expletive] about Carver or Nash? America doesn't bail out the losers. America was built by bailing out winners, by rigging a nation of the winners, for the winners, by the winners.

MCEVERS: The film follows Carver and one of the people he's evicted, a young single dad named Dennis Nash. And it was written and directed by Ramin Bahrani, who joins us now.

Welcome to the program.

RAMIN BAHRANI: Thanks for having me.

MCEVERS: I wanted to ask you first, what made you want to make a film about the housing crisis? I mean, did you know anyone who had been affected by it?

BAHRANI: No, but I came to know quite a few number of people. You know, the whole world was turned upside down so I wanted to know. And I started doing a lot of research. There were four states that were the epicenters of the housing crash. One was Florida. And I started to go down there and spend a lot of time with real estate brokers. That's where I came to understand every single real estate broker I met carried a gun because they were scared who was going to be on the other side of the door.

MCEVERS: When they went to go evict someone.

BAHRANI: Yes because they didn't sign up to do evictions, they signed up to put people in homes, to speculate on property, not to conduct evictions. So I spent a lot of time with real estate brokers, foreclosure attorneys, spending time in the rocket dockets - the foreclosure courts where they decide your case in 60 seconds flat - going on evictions, witnessing the evictions. I spent time with families that really seemed like your neighbor, brother, your sister, and now they were living in motels next to migrant workers, gang bangers, prostitutes. So all these things started to fuel the script.

MCEVERS: We talk about these evictions and these moments when these real estate brokers are - turn into people who are kicking people out of their homes. I want to listen to a clip. It's from early in the film. Michael Shannon's character, he's the real estate broker, he's come to evict Andrew Garfield's character, this guy named Dennis Nash, and his mother, played by Laura Dern. Let's just listen to a little bit of it.


SHANNON: (As Rick Carver) I'm very sorry to tell you that this home has been foreclosed on and officially transferred to the bank, and I'm going to need you to please vacate the premises.

ANDREW GARFIELD: (As Dennis Nash) I understand what you're saying, Mr. Carver, and I was in court yesterday...

LAURA DERN: (As Lynn Nash) Yeah.

GARFIELD: (As Dennis Nash) ...And the judge informed me that I got 30 days to file for an appeal, and that's what I intend to do.

SHANNON: (As Rick Carver) Well, what I received is a court order signed by a judge. It says you are to vacate these premises today.

DERN: (As Lynn Nash) We were scared of this.

SHANNON: (As Rick Carver) This home is owned by the bank.

MCEVERS: And this is just the beginning, right? I mean, this scene escalates from here. It starts, you know, they're clearly in denial. They're like, no, no, no, no, no - we've got 30 days, we've got some phone calls to make, to, like, the ultimate realization that not only are they getting evicted from their home, but it's happening right now. Michael Shannon's like, you need to get out of this house, you are trespassing. They're, like, standing on the curb with everything they own. And eventually, Andrew Garfield's character makes this kind of deal with the devil. Can you tell us about that?

BAHRANI: You know, in 2010, there were no jobs to be had, and Andrew's a construction worker. And after he's evicted by Michael, we get into a deal with the devil where he has to work for Michael, the man who evicted him, in order to get his house back. And to do that, he's going to have to start evicting other people and a lot of other corruption in the housing crisis - scams, endless scams against Fannie, Freddie - the banks - and other homeowners. And the lines he has to cross are going to get worse and worse and worse. It's a very slippery slope. Initially, for a good cause - get his home back for his family, but at what cost?

MCEVERS: And eventually, there's these scenes, these really wrenching scenes, of him - the evicted - going to be the evictor, where he goes to people's houses and knocks on doors. And we see a Latino family where the son is translating what's happening. We see an elderly gentleman getting evicted from his home. He has no idea what's really going on. He's got nobody to call.

BAHRANI: Reverse mortgage.

MCEVERS: Yeah, he was tricked into some reverse mortgage deal. I mean, I see you shaking your head. You look - I mean, this is - these are really moving moments. Did you see these things happen?

BAHRANI: The real elderly man actually had dementia. It's actually worse than what I put in the film, but you would never believe me if I put it in the film. Reality is always too much for audience to comprehend. Often, Andrew had no idea if it was an actor or a real person, and he often had no idea what the person was going to say. So that elderly man scene - I told Andrew, this is a real man with dementia. I don't know what he's going to say, but you know your routine, you know. Good luck.

MCEVERS: Really? So there was no script for that.

BAHRANI: Andrew...

MCEVERS: For the other - he knew what he was going to say.

BAHRANI: Andrew knew his thing because he knew the procedures. And the elderly man actually was an actor, so he and I had talked about reverse mortgage, his wife, this and that. But then the rest is whatever happens.

MCEVERS: The film is set in 2010. The crash has happened, and now these are the repercussions of the crash. You know, it's five years later. It's 2015. By all accounts, the economy's doing better, interest rates are low, people are spending money again. Do you think that there's an urgency among the general audience? Do you think there's, you know, people are going to say, oh, do you - you know, a film about the housing crisis? Isn't that over?

BAHRANI: Yes, I think it will because it's not just the housing crisis. The film is an emotional story about people. The film is, as we said, a deal with the devil film. It is a thriller about that and how far would you go to protect your family. The title, "99 Homes," comes from this concept. Joseph Stiglitz coined the 99 percent. And it doesn't matter what side of the economic spectrum you're on, people are angry. They're angry about banks, they're angry about the government, they're angry about why is it that no matter how hard they work they're not getting anywhere? They're angry about why is it that they have part-time jobs that don't have benefits? They're angry about so many things. And that's a global anger. And I don't think this is going away. This is just going to be escalating over time.

MCEVERS: That's Ramin Bahrani. He directed the new movie, "99 Homes."

Thank you so much.

BAHRANI: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.