House Of Sand And Fog

Engaging but bleak drama unfortunately let down in the final reel.

Released in 2003, certified UK-15. Reviewed on 25 Mar 2004 by Craig Eastman
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Of course, the house in question isn't really made of sand and fog; that would just be silly. Even if it did somehow manage to stay standing everything would disintegrate the first time you boiled the kettle and the steam came out, and unless you got some decent air con installed the atmosphere would play havoc with the old respiratory system. It'd be well easy to knock the dining room and study into one big room mind you... Sorry. It's been a while since I saw this movie and promised Tippy I'd review it, and to be honest I'm struggling to think of things to write. Stay with me here and I'll try and to think of something useful to say...

Yes, sand and fog. Potent metaphors if ever there were. Time slipping through your fingers, and the shady haze of deception; trouble in the making if ever I saw it. In the 'Sand' corner, weighing in at 120lbs (plus breasts, which are hard to judge), Kathy (Jennifer Connely). Kathy is a young lady in quite the pickle. Estranged from her husband she's living as a near down-and-out in the house she's inherited and neglected to keep up repayments on. Ashamed to tell even her mother that she's single and about to lose her home, Kathy seems content to keep her head buried in the rapidly diminishing sands of time until one day she's thrown onto the street and the house is put up for auction.

And in the 'Fog' corner Behrani (Ben Kingsley); an Iranian exile and ex army official who has fled to the United States with his family in fear for their lives. Picking up Kathy's old house on the cheap, Behrani inadvertently sparks an ultimately tragic battle of ownership between himself and Kathy, with her new police officer boyfriend Lester (Ron Eldard) thrown in for good measure. Emotionally burdened by the necessity to provide for his family while at the same time clutching desperately to maintain some of the pride and respect he once commanded as an Iranian citizen, Behrani slowly begins to fold as Lester's love for Kathy materialises in some poorly judged harassment of the refugee and his family.

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For the most part House Of Sand And Fog is an immensely enjoyable movie that rewards the viewer with rich characterisation, uniformly superb acting and genuinely touching emotional content. The first hour and a half rolls in with a satisfying pace, never rushing the viewer to make any judgements of character; like the title would suggest, this is one movie where there are no clear good guys or bad guys, winners or losers. Indeed for anyone of a depressed nature this might prove too much of a downer to handle, as pretty much everybody ends up reaping the whirlwind of despair by the final reel.

The performances throughout are outstanding, with Kingsley and screen partner Shohreh Aghdashloo richly deserving their Oscar nominations for best Actor and Best Supporting Actress. It truly is Kingsley's show, and as a man battling with pride and financial ruin he's on his best form since Sexy Beast, especially when one sees how well he deals with a heavy Iranian accent. Unfortunately it's the scripting for Behrani that lets the film slip in the final two reels, travelling just the wrong side of believable to sustain the movie's emotional momentum, and ruining what might have otherwise been a potent emotional climax.

Still, for first time screenwriter/director Vadim Perelman the movie remains an outstanding achievement, for the most part superbly adapted from the novel by Andre Dubus. His directing style is confident enough that he knows when to let the characters do the talking rather than the camera, and there's some truly bleak yet beautiful cinematography surrounding the beachfront property over which such a fuss is generated.

There's a nagging sensation by the closing credits that House Of Sand And Fog is an opportunity foolishly let slip in the final moments by an easily avoidable conclusion. At the same time however, it still stands as a remarkably accomplished work of emotional power held aloft by excellent scripting, strong direction and downright superb performances, and it should be praised as much on the latter as it should be beaten with a big stick for the former. Well worth the effort for those not currently on anti-depressant medication.

My Island of Apathy, sculpted from milk lollies, seems as good a place as any from which to award this movie 4 out of 5 "Bees, bees, millions of bees!"

Vadim Perelman
Cast list:
Jennifer Connelly (Kathy)
Ben Kingsley (Behrani)
Ron Eldard (Lester)
Shohreh Aghdashloo (Nadi)