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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
[] Buy posters from this movie
by Erik Childress

"Tissues Or Razor Blades. Your Choice."
4 stars

“As far as possible never do evil to anyone or it will ruin you, your children and your house,” said St. Gregorious of Malankara. Very few of us will come face-to-face with the kind of evil built up in our minds through movies and the media. Evil would likely be too strong of a word for the kind of wrongs we’re dealt and perhaps commit in our daily lives and rarely are we around long enough to witness the consequences. House of Sand and Fog confronts us with a domestic dispute heading face first into potential tragedy without blinking. Although you may want to considering Shakespeare would be in the audience going “Jesus Christ, dude.”

The treatment of the material goes to show you how base the lines are drawn between tragedy and comedy. Kathy Nicolo (Jennifer Connelly) is a recovering alcoholic and recent divorcee living in the house that her late father left her. One morning the county comes, posting eviction signs on her door and forcing her to evacuate immediately. Turns out a clerical error of $500 on a tax she doesn’t even owe is responsible and before legal action can be taken, her house is put up for auction and sold. Just a little twist at the fork of the script and you can hear the theme for Midnight Run over the trailer.

Massoud Amir Behrani (Ben Kingsley) was once a Colonel in the Iranian army. Forced to flee, he now secretly busts his hump for public works on a dwindling savings account so that he can give his wife (Shohreh Aghdashloo) the luxury she’s accustomed to, his daughter the wedding she deserves and the son (Jonathan Ahdout) the education he needs. Massoud buys Kathy’s house at a bargain price and plans to make improvements until he can resell it at market value.

The legal battle stands on people basically being asked to do the right thing. Kathy, a housecleaner, is left to nothing but her car to sleep in. All events (even her 8-month divorce) she has kept from her mother who has an impending visit. She begins a carefully-guarded relationship with Lester Burdon (Ron Eldard), a sympathetic police officer present at her eviction, who has home issues of his own. Massoud steadfastly rejects Kathy’s plight, unwilling to jeopardize his family’s future because of the mistakes of others.

The direction this is all headed is foreshadowed in the opening scene, a device I’m rarely in favor of. Yet one of the film’s most admirable qualities is actually its ambivalence. We see both points-of-view on the matter and shudder at the potential consequences because the characters will not. Both Kathy and Massoud have righteousness on their side and neither of them deserve to lose this house. Their reactions can’t be considered drastic or “evil” (at least not until Lester gets involved) and we’re forced to confront our own prejudices and cultural mores as we wonder how we would behave in the same situation.

Iranian women have had their role defined for them and Massoud, while loving his Nadi, certainly lives by the bounds of his traditions. He views Kathy as an irresponsible American who would never have the same rights in his country. This gives Nadi her own bond with Kathy. Despite only having a lion’s share of English, she feels for this broken woman and wants to understand her sadness. In turn, Lester subtly hints at his prejudice towards foreigners, which may contribute but certainly does not dictate his actions on behalf of the woman he hopes is freeing him from a loveless marriage. In a lesser film, Lester’s racism would be more out in the open with slurs of “towelhead” and any other such horrible mentions. This film doesn’t pander to the audience even if the director frequently tries to oversell his vision.

For every nuance or hinted plot turn, first-time director Vadim Perelman links them with some of the most blatant and eager pieces of symbolism. On the page, you can rhapsodize about wounded birds all you like. Devote chapters to it if necessary, but it’s a different medium. An audience doesn’t need more foggy atmosphere or the fog’s rolling in faster every third shot to define the inherent tension. The dry-ice wrangler is dangerously close to actually being in every shot. For God’s sake, John Carpenter didn’t use this much fog

Where Perelman doesn’t go wrong is in his choice of actors. Jennifer Connelly just continues to grow as a presence beyond her classic goddess look. Roles in Requiem of a Dream and her Oscar-winning turn in A Beautiful Mind were near the top of those film’s strengths. Here she’s stunning as a confused, angry wreck who wants to wash away her past sins and slowly sees herself rocketing headlong into even greater ones.

Then there is Ben Kingsley (or The Man as I like to frequently call him) in one of the great performances of his career. Massoud is a character that depends on us equally feeling for him and being disgraced at his actions, alternately at various stages of the film. He’s sympathetic AND hateful and yet we know we’d manage some of the same steps he takes to guard his family. His undeniable devotion to his son as the next male of the family name could have been played (and often is) without words because of Kingsley’s strength. When he does finally let his emotion overcome him, you can hear heartstrings being replaced everywhere and Oscar voters ignoring every other name on the ballot.

House of Sand and Fog is spellbinding in its storytelling and chest-collapsing in its horror. It’s a difficult film to watch and a far-more thorny one to walk out of. Credit to Roger Deakins’ cinematography for basking the film in both beauty (80% of which belongs to Connelly) and its innate dreariness. Original author Andre Dupus III also had a story as a basis for the tragic In The Bedroom. This story doesn’t as easily paint its characters, constantly making us reflect on exactly what shade of gray our eyes are actually seeing and Perelman has a clean grasp on its elements and how to tell it. Perhaps he tries a little too hard sometimes, but as Shakespeare might speak of plagued houses or protesting ladies, he also said “The quality of mercy is not strain'd. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. It is twice blest: It blesseth him that gives and him that takes." Unfortunately if the simplest of solutions can’t be agreed upon, then a pound of flesh may be the next step.

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originally posted: 12/25/03 16:53:51
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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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