Yesterday Deadline’s Pete Hammond praised Ramin Bahrani’s 99 Homes, a moral-outrage drama about a couple of guys (Andrew Garfield, Michael Shannon) making good but smelly money by evicting working-class Floridians from their homes roughly two years after the 2008 meltdown. Dog eat dog, survival of the fittest, no room for compassion, etc. Pete is usually a shrewd assessor of award-season contenders but this time he’s way off. I saw 99 Homes in Telluride a couple of days ago and it was all I could do to keep from groaning aloud. Just because a film is portraying real- life realities and has its heart in the right place doesn’t mean it’s good, much less an awards hottie.

Andrew Garfield, Michael Shannon in Ramin Bahrani’s 99 Homes.

99 Homes is a close-up portrait of the real-estate trauma that’s been happening in middle-class communities all over the country for the last five or six years, and is about the willingness of a regular guy to whack regular folks -— to serve as a kind of foreclosure hit man — in order to save his own neck.

Then again the evictees aren’t blameless. They aren’t exactly “deadbeats” but they are out of work and behind on their mortgage payments, and are probably over-extended in terms of income vs. debt. I was saying to myself, “Too bad, chubby…but did you ever imagine this might happen when you signed that bank loan?” A lot of out-of-work people have had their homes seized by bankstas over the last three or four years. And guys like Shannon’s Rick Carver are paid to be their muscle on the street.

Carver is technically a realtor but is really the Tony Montana of foreclosures and evictions. It’s the return of The Ice Man in suburban Florida and dressed in nicer duds. But at least he’s giving Garfield’s Dennis Nash, a single construction-worker dad whom Carver evicts from his modest Orlando-area home (along with his son and mom) as the film begins, a chance to stay afloat. Garfield has moved his brood to a motel and is panicking over his inability to cover expenses, and so he naturally says “damn right” when Shannon offers work.

Garfield is repelled by the cruel nature of the job, as anyone would be, but it pays well and he wants his home back so he sucks it in and does the dirty. He’s really not all that different from Emilio Estevez’s character in Repo Man — people can’t keep up with their payments, he reclaims the property….bang. It’s a heartless system but Garfield isn’t that brutal — he’s just serving The Beast in order to avoid being eaten himself.

But he lies to his adolescent, curly-haired son (Noah Lomax, who resembles the late Hugo Chavez a lot more than Garfield) and his mom (Laura Dern) about what he’s up to. He tells them he’s doing construction. This is Bahrani’s first big wrongo. When Garfield started lying to them I said to myself, “Okay, here we go…I can see this whole movie at a glance.” And that’s when I started to distance myself from this manipulative, decidedly second-rate film that Hammond believes is almost the Second Coming.

It’s obvious from the get-go that Garfield, known for his sensitive, doe-eyed expressions and an apparent preference for playing alpha good guys who would rather be fucked over than vice versa, is going to rebel against Shannon and the general venality. Because…you know, he has to do the morally right thing. This is what people do in films like this — they stand up like men and cleanse their souls at the end of Act Three. It’s a whorey-ass cliche, and one that is telegraphed, trust me, from the get-go.

But the worst moment of all comes when Dern and Chavez, Jr. find out what Garfield’s job is, and they shun him. This is when I really bailed on this film. Dern: “My God…you have no morals! I can’t live with you…I’m going to move in with someone else!” Chavez, Jr.: “How could you take a job that makes people like us miserable, dad? That’s so awful! I’m going to sit on the couch and avoid eye contact with you!” [Note: these are satiric riffs and not actual dialogue from the film.]

Again, only in the realm of manipulative bullshit. In the real world when families are hungry and treading water in shark-filled waters, they don’t care how dad is making money short of his becoming a mob assassin or child pornographer. Garfield isn’t an agent of God’s compassion, obviously, but the people getting tossed have left themselves exposed to predators, and if Garfield wasn’t doing this lousy job somebody else would. Why did these families take out huge loans in the first place? Have they ever heard of living within their means? All Garfield’s family would know and say in real life is that they’re not in the tank with those sharks. They have beds and clean sheets to sleep in, a 42-inch flatscreen to watch in the living room, food on the table and locks on the doors…good enough!

Would there be a certain real-life distance when a son or a mom finds out that dad has not only been lying to them but is evicting families or otherwise doing something bad karma-ish? Probably, but it would be mixed with the fact that it’s really rough out there, the fact that they love and need him, and a belief that this is only temporary and that he’ll go back to honest construction work when an opportunity arises.

I’m sorry but I didn’t like Bahrani’s At Any Price and I don’t like this one either. Why did I just say that? This is not a matter of “I like this” or “I don’t like this.” It’s a matter of “this is unconvincing manipulative filmmaking that is more interested in moral chest-beating than casting any kind of persuasive spell or, you know, winning over guys like myself.”

That said, Shannon is coolly believable as Superprick Carver, but everything he says is on the level of “look, the world is made of winners and losers…which group do you wanna be with?” Or “I didn’t choose to be a monster…I almost went under myself a few year sago and that’s not gonna happen again.” Everything he says and does expresses a general “sardonic bloodless villain who isn’t really a villain as much as a guy who’s responding to market situations and needs” aesthetic. But he’s good. I’ve always liked Shannon. My favorite role of his? The wacky truth-teller in Revolutionary Road.