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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 23.4%
Average: 14.89%
Pretty Bad: 4.26%
Total Crap: 4.26%

6 reviews, 58 user ratings

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House of Sand and Fog
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by Scott Weinberg

"It's like an action movie that uses conversations instead of guns."
5 stars

Heroes and villains. Good vs. Evil. Black and white. That's how the story goes in most movies. This is not necessarily a bad thing; we need Darth Vader to be evil and it's important that James Bond is immortal. But when a movie aims to venture forth into that "grey area" between the clearly righteous and the plainly unpleasant, we could be in for some fascinating lessons. And in the case of Vadim Perelman's debut movie, that's absolutely the case. Plus...duh,'s got Jennifer Connelly in it!

Prior to your eleventh screening of The Return of the King you see a new trailer. It looks a lot like a thriller in which a beautiful young woman is tossed out of her house and kicked to the curb by a dastardly Iranian businessman. This trailer looks a little bit like those "social thrillers" in the vein of Unlawful Entry or Pacific Heights.

House of Sand and Fog is nothing like that. And that's a good thing. Less of a thriller and more of a fascinating morality play, "House" delivers two distinctly realistic characters, cinematic creations that are both antagonist and protagonist at the same time. That's a tough balance.

The still-achingly-perfect Jennifer Connelly plays Kathy, a morose house-cleaner who doesn't so much enjoy life as she does withstand it. Kathy's husband is long-gone and she's been losing a battle with the bottle. One day a tax collector and some cops pop up on Kathy's doorstep and explain that she's been evicted for a tax issue. Evicted, like immediately.

The house is put up for auction and snapped up by Behrani, a noble-yet-struggling man who was once a well-respected military officer in his home country...but is now just another working Joe trying to provide for his family. Behrani's goal is to purchase the house, fix it up with a few coats of paint, and then re-sell it for a tidy profit. Basically the American dream and all that stuff.

Were House of Sand and Fog content to exploit the thriller end of this conceit, we'd inevitably see Kathy stalking and eventually slashing her way through the house in an effort to claim what's hers. Fortunately for all involved, first-time writer/director Vadim Perelman (working from the novel by Andre Dubus III) aims to tell a tale of two people who start out wrapped together by unpleasant circumstance, and end up making things a whole lot worse. Not because one's right and the other's wrong, but because they're just fragile little people desperately trying to keep their heads above water.

Just as a horror movie needs solid scares to keep the momentum going, a sincere drama (and lemme tell you, this one is Drama with a capital D) should deliver consistent moments of realistic emotion. I'm not talking about emotion like when the young mother peters out on the operating table; I mean that sad and desperate feeling you share when you realize that neither of these characters is likely to come out of this conflict unscathed. And the movie allows you to realize that if you were in their shoes, well, you'd probably be pretty screwed too.

At one point Kathy is the victim. Period. You're just sure of it. But wait. She's no more of a victim than the formerly regal, now disgraced Behrani. His biggest crime was what? He bought a house as an investment for his family! He can't afford to just up and leave! Plus Kathy could have battled through her depression just long enough to open her mail and learn of the impending eviction. But she didn't! On the other hand, the tax thing ended up being a mistake after she IS the victim after all! But wait...

See, this is the sort of stuff you'll be debating with your friends as you walk out of a "House" screening. It's a sincere and heartfelt movie that is clearly out to challenge a brain or two. That Perelman was able to elicit two stellar performances from his leads should come as no surprise. His leads are Jennifer Connelly and Sir Ben Kingsley, after all. (I'm not the first to say it, and I won't be the last: Kingsley is a shoo-in for an Oscar nom. Book it.)

Matching up to Kingsley quite capably (not an easy task) is the ethereally beautiful JCon. But don't dismiss my praise as that of a schoolboy with a crush (although it sorta is), because Jennifer Connelly has, over the years and through many disparate movies, flowered into one of our finest leading ladies. Yep, right up there with your Julianne Moores and your Cate Blanchetts. That's not just a pretty face, guys. She won an Oscar for a reason and (based on her work here) I wouldn't be stunned if she did it again someday. Here she's wounded, scared, vulnerable...and also infuriated, ballsy and kind-hearted. Call me smitten, but Jen's a perfect marriage of talent and, well, just plain old beautifulness...if that's even a word.

It's true that James Horner's musical score intrudes into some of the movie's most effective moments (as if the audience cannot trust their own emotional barometers, we need a Pavlovian score to up the ante) and that, on the whole, House of Sand and Fog could never be regarded as a 'fun' film.

But that's just fine. Sometimes we need the black and white simplicity of the good guys vs. the bad guys. Other times it's quite invigorating to enjoy a film that casts no judgments on its characters and allows you to fill in the blanks. House of Sand and Fog is the diametric opposite of stuff like Enough and Double Jeopardy, and I mean that as a very large compliment.

Perelman's adapted screenplay is virtually addicting in its depiction of a Bad Situation Turned Worse, and the movie never once feels forced or false or beholden to the need to 'tidy things up'. It's a heavy flick made for grown-ups to enjoy, and I for one think it's a literate and fascinating debut. Plus, like I said...Connelly's in it. She's the best.

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originally posted: 12/24/03 22:03:20
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User Comments

1/14/09 Shaun Wallner Friiggin Awesome!! 5 stars
10/24/07 R.W. Welch Sort of a neo-Shakespearean tragedy with upper case acting and cinematography. 4 stars
4/09/07 Adam J.Connelly walking around in a T-shirt alone is worth the rental! 5 stars
11/11/06 David Pollastrini not great, not terrible 3 stars
9/16/06 Brian O'Neill Watched the DVD then curled up and cried for 30 minutes. It's amazing, but hard to watch. 5 stars
8/19/06 Zaw Good but Extremely Slow! 5 stars
5/31/06 stephanie willis Ben Kingsley, at his finest 4 stars
4/03/06 Jamie Jennifer Connelly is the epitome of lust....good movie, but weird esp the ending 4 stars
11/27/05 cr a wonderful story of a family, a girl, and a house, it scenes just pull you in, sad 4 stars
10/19/05 Douglas Reese 2003's Best Film! An absolute triumph in every which way! Extraordinary movie! 5 stars
8/17/05 John greek tragedis deal in archtypes - this pretends to have real charcacters - 1 stars
8/02/05 Indrid Cold Yeah it's just like a Greek tragedy, but Greek tragedies are overblown and stilted. 3 stars
6/27/05 dan pretty deppressing but connelly is so hot 4 stars
6/20/05 Bob Johnson Great! 5 stars
6/13/05 lindy03 Excellent! Well-played Greek tragedy. 5 stars
6/03/05 Simon ONe of the most well-done, no-nonsense pure dramas to come out in a long time. 4 stars
3/25/05 Paul Jennifer Connelly is perfect. Great movie. 5 stars
3/12/05 jeff darryl u r just too dumb to understand this movie. 5 stars
2/21/05 Darryl Boring. Didn't pick up until then kid got shot and I found myself cheering! 2 stars
1/10/05 chris. my god. don't let your depressed teen see this-i'd have killed myself 4 stars
1/07/05 temy Like an ancient Greek tragedy 5 stars
12/09/04 Landshark obscure, opaque, brooding...never gets candyassed. bonus for Iran immersion---Secret Ballot 5 stars
12/08/04 Shanelle it was sooooo good i felt i was watching real life instead of a movie 5 stars
11/16/04 Raymond Shaw Jennifer Connoly's standard one note performance can't ruin this Ben Kingsley masterpiece. 5 stars
11/03/04 Stevo Well acted. Well told story. Just depressing. Gotta be in the mood. 4 stars
10/26/04 Mahsa great film 5 stars
7/26/04 Brian Murray Just a series of depressing events. By the time the kid dies it was funny. 1 stars
7/23/04 Karen McAninley the movie succeeding in making me feel hopeless, full of despair and depressed. 1 stars
7/19/04 Marco Zierl completely boring and over-dramatized 2 stars
7/08/04 Phil M. Aficionado The plot takes some ill-conceived twists toward the end, but very strong cast & film anyway 4 stars
6/21/04 Emperor's New Clothes? Nope. Just a Fat, Ugly, Naked, Guy. Beatiful and delicate, these actors deliver with the most heartbreaking finesse 5 stars
5/23/04 Butterbean Kingsly was fantastic as usual. I really hated that ending. 4 stars
4/07/04 Jenny Tullwartz Intresting start but all characters but colonel's son make you care less and less bout them 2 stars
4/01/04 jj a tragedy,full of emotion with superb acting! 5 stars
4/01/04 Albie The best film I saw at the theater in 2003 5 stars
3/20/04 kari dennis great movie 5 stars
3/14/04 ownerofdajoint kinksley is incredible.....don't miss this movie... 5 stars
3/05/04 Raymund One of the Best Drama I've Ever Watched! 5 stars
3/02/04 Chloe Brody How amazing... 5 stars
2/28/04 john enjoyed 4 stars
2/26/04 Troy Butler 4.5 stars, ... beautiful performances all round, ... extremely powerful!!! 5 stars
2/15/04 john bale Heartwrenching performance by Kingsley in this finely crafted and powerful movie 5 stars
2/06/04 Jenny Tullwartz Intresting start but all characters but colonel's son make you care less and less bout them 2 stars
1/30/04 Nancy An amazing film that left me stunned 5 stars
1/29/04 Marce unexpected in its originality and power. Really cool, dude ;) 4 stars
1/21/04 smartmusician Incredible. Excellent interpretation of Andre Dubus III's book. Incredible acting!! 5 stars
1/21/04 Contracts Wonk It was the FATHER who wrote the novel on which In the Bedroom is based. 4 stars
1/21/04 Steve Thought provoking... Your emotions change throughout 5 stars
1/19/04 p alexander terrible and racially offensive 1 stars
1/15/04 Betty White Powerhouse performances all-around and top-notch production values. 5 stars
1/12/04 Happy Hour Like a damp, foggy day, this movie gets beneth your skin and chills you. 5 stars
1/12/04 Farhad Milani very deep subject, worthy of hours of discussion 5 stars
1/04/04 breadman Ben Kingsley on the floor pleading to God, tough to I've been there. 4 stars
1/03/04 Sara Finally, a movie showing the truth. 5 stars
1/02/04 Billy Jennifer Connely is a dipiction of brilliance. This Film belongs to her. 5 stars
12/31/03 Mo O'Toole excellent 5 stars
12/30/03 Phil Taylor Powerful performances by Kingsley and Connelly, somewhat overbearing emotional tone 4 stars
12/28/03 Earl Kanter Very Disturbing to see the woman and sheriff involved in a situation that mature individual 4 stars
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  19-Dec-2003 (R)
  DVD: 30-Mar-2004



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