The Housing Scene by Lew Sichelman


Foreclosures are never pretty. Just ask one of the millions of people who were put out of their homes during the housing crises of recent years.

If you want to see what it's like, or what goes on behind the scenes, the recently released movie "99 Homes" will give you an idea.

In my landlording career, I've only been on one eviction when I was left with no choice but to remove a tenant; he hadn't paid rent in several months and wouldn't respond to my appeals. When the sheriff's deputies who served the eviction notice pulled out their weapons before banging on the front door, it gave me a chill down my spine that I'd never anticipated. I quickly backed up -- way up, around the corner -- in case shots were fired.

"99 Homes" will give you that same kind of sinking feeling -- and then some.

It's the tale of an unemployed contractor and single dad named Dennis Nash (played by Andrew Garfield) who loses his home to foreclosure. Out on the street with his young child and widowed mother (Laura Dern), Nash tries to earn the house back by going to work for the shameless realty broker (Michael Shannon) who handled the eviction.

For Nash, the agreement turns out to be more dangerous and brutal than he ever imagined. The movie tumbles deep into the personal side of repossessions, and the bank's agent teaches Nash the legal, and illegal, ins and outs of the foreclosure game.

Another film, due out in December, depicts the housing implosion from the point of view of bankers, who are generally credited with causing the whole mess. Others, too, must share the blame, but "The Big Short" tells the story of how a few Wall Street "outsiders" bet against the housing market and raked in millions when it collapsed.

It's based on "The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine," a nonfiction book by Michael Lewis that spent 28 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list. Lewis is also the author of two other highly regarded books-turned-movies, "Moneyball" and "The Blind Side."

Directed by Will Ferrell's frequent partner-in-comedy, Adam McKay, the movie's cast includes Academy Award winners or nominees Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, Steve Carell and Marisa Tomei. It depicts how banks got greedy by giving out mortgages to people who were not qualified, and how a few traders profited from the banks' "stupidity."

For example, Carell's character goes to a men's club in one scene, where he talks to an exotic dancer who finds out that she can't refinance the loans on her five houses and one condo.

"No one's paying attention," says Gosling's character, who, along with three other small-time financial whizzes, realizes the housing market is on the verge of collapse. They race to cash in on the pending catastrophe -- a tragedy the banking industry, the media and the government either failed to see coming, or didn't want to.

"The whole housing market is propped up on bad loans," says Bale's character. "It will fail."

On the other hand, everyone saw the foreclosure crisis, which unfolded front and center in the media. But most of us were on the sidelines. We had no idea of what it was like to lose our homes, or about the shenanigans that went on behind the scenes as some people profited from others' misery.

The R-rated "99 Homes" tells that story. Director Ramin Bahrani spent months in Florida researching the film. He saw first-hand the so-called "rocket dockets," in which the legal fate of struggling homeowners was sealed in 60 seconds or less. He even went on several evictions, which he called "frightening and horrific things."

The taut drama also describes the dual-tracking system some lenders followed, in which one arm of the bank told owners one thing and another arm told them something else. Many people were trapped in the system and eventually lost their homes.

Garfield, who met with several Florida families who had lost their homes in researching his role, told Yahoo Movies that his own family was nearly foreclosed on when he was a teenager. "A couple of baby steps to the side, and this could have been me," he said.

In the film, Shannon's character, the greedy foreclosure broker Rick Carver, heartlessly evicts Nash with the cops standing at his shoulder. He later tells him, "I didn't evict you. The bank did."

Carver also delivers this chilling homily: "Do you think America gives a rat's (behind) about you or me? America doesn't bail out the losers. America was built by bailing out winners ... by rigging a nation, of the winners, by the winners, for the winners."