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“Please, Donald Trump, watch this movie,” says Ramin Bahrani, the writer-director of 99 Homes, as I sit down with him and the Oscar-nominated actor Michael Shannon in New York City. We’re taping episode four of The Hollywood Reporter‘s weekly awards podcast, Awards Chatter, and the topic is 99 Homes, their film about America’s recent foreclosure crisis that shows how a Florida man (Andrew Garfield) whose home is repossessed ends up working for the real estate broker (Shannon) who evicted him and his family. Bahrani’s hope is that the drama, which plays like a thriller, will teach the current frontrunner for the GOP presidential nomination — and all who see it — a little more empathy since, as he sees it, “The real villain here is the system.”
(You can play the full conversation below or download it — and past episodes with the likes of Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Danny Boyle, Eddie Redmayne and Jason Segel — on iTunes.)
99 Homes, which was made for less than $8 million, has taken a circuitous path to this year’s awards race. It had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival and subsequent screenings at the Telluride and Toronto film festivals last year, but was held for release until this year, when it played at Sundance, Deauville and a number of other film fests en route to its theatrical debut last weekend in New York, where it did strong per-theater numbers despite coming up against the pope’s visit to town. Broad Green Pictures, which acquired it out of Toronto more than a year ago, is rolling it out slowly and hoping that its strong reviews and word-of-mouth buzz will propel it deeper into the discussion.
Shannon’s supporting performance certainly merits attention. “I’ve played a lot of ‘bad guys,’ ” the actor acknowledges, but then explains why he doesn’t necessarily see his 99 Homes character as one of them; rather, he sees him as a guy filling a role that somebody else would fill if he didn’t. “I liken it to the Bubonic plague — somebody had to go clean the bodies off the streets, and that’s what he does.” (If anyone thinks Shannon only plays “bad guys,” they should go and check out his other excellent 2015 supporting performance in Freeheld, in which he plays a cop who bucks his colleagues and fights for his dying lesbian partner’s life partner to receive the same benefits a straight couple would have received.)
Over the course of the conversation, Bahrani and Shannon talk about how they first met and what drew them to each other’s work (Bahrani, whom Roger Ebert called “the director of the decade” shortly before his death, made his name with a number of low-budget indies starring nonactors); why a script about an unsexy subject elicited great interest from investors; how Shannon and Garfield’s acting styles differ and were reconciled; why Bahrani opted for several long-take scenes and for casting several nonactors alongside the professionals (just like one of the films that inspired this one, On the Waterfront) and how those decisions impacted Shannon’s job; and much more.
99 Homes, which is being distributed in the U.S. by Broad Green Pictures, currently is rolling out in select theaters. Awards voters are being asked to consider the film for best picture and Shannon for best supporting actor.
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