Bahrani revealed his favorite exchange in the script, which poses the question for all of us:
“Is it worth it?"
"As opposed to what?!”
In the Q&A with Variety's Jenelle Riley, Bahrani was asked about his process for the this film, which examines Florida's housing crash, through a poignant telling of two men’s moral dilemma. “I look for material that has a powerful social message," said Bahrani. In this movie, he takes the viewer into this world of stark contrasts.
Bahrani noted he went to Florida and researched the "rocket docket" court, along with meeting with real estate brokers who made a living picking up foreclosures from banks. He also met with some of the 5 million evicted tenants, some of whom even appear in the movie as the displaced homeowners, to bring authenticity and real improvisation to the scenes. “I visited the hotels where these displaced families ended up living, literally down the road - via Highway 142 - from Disney World." Actors worked from the script, but each take was different because the actors were not sure what the non-actors would bring.
In the realtor-turned-foreclosure-flipper role, Michael Shannon personifies the moral compass driven by success and greed. His multidimensional portrayal is of a man that has come from poverty and is determined to not be a loser. “We both have the same agency," noted Shannon of Bahrani, "and Werner Herzog had worked with Bahrani on his film and brought us together at the Venice Film Festival." Initially, Michael explained, “he was not what Bahrani was looking for in the lead.” However, later in the interview, Bahrani noted that after seeing some of Shannon’s work, he actually rewrote the script to have it more effectively represent Michael’s approach.
|Ramin Bahrani and Michael Shannon|
99 Homes takes you into the world of these transformed gun-toting brokers, intersected with unemployed homeowners, led by the emotionally charged performances of Andrew Garfield and Laura Dern. Garfield and Shannon demonstrate the intense struggle to protect the life they had made for their families, and how far they would go to preserve it.
It was something to sit back and watch these two act off each other, noted Bahrani. The director’s job, he said, "is to cast well, and you shouldn’t need to say anything, but just let them act.” For Shannon, “I work hard, with preparation, truth, and respect. Then I trust [that the director] makes sure it is good.” Bahrani put in the pre-work, and it is evident.
In this most timely reflection on what has put our country in the throes of the economic and political choices we currently are facing, Bahrani continues to push for conscientious discussion. “I don’t know why people have to know everything in the end. I’d rather people walk away and talk about it. " Dedicated to his mentor Roger Ebert, you won’t be disappointed but you will go away talking.
99 Homes is in theaters now.