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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 EricDSnider

"Stellar acting in a strong psychological melodrama."
5 stars

Massoud Amir Behrani, the proud, honest Iranian immigrant played by Ben Kingsley in "House of Sand and Fog," is the sort of person the American Dream was designed for. As a colonel in pre-Ayatollah Iran, he once had several large trees torn down because they blocked the view of the ocean from his bungalow. Now, he finds America to be particularly suited to his lifestyle, because in America, you're supposed to be able to get whatever you want. That's the American Dream, after all.

"House of Sand and Fog," a particularly distinguished debut from first-time director Vadim Perelman, based on Andre Dubus III's Oprah-approved novel, is about the dissolution of the American Dream, the one that calls for little houses with white picket fences and two-parent families and a steady 9-to-5 job. Behrani has been living in a small apartment with his wife Nadi (Shohreh Aghdashloo) and teenage son Esmail (Jonathan Ahdout) while he works two jobs, days on a road crew and nights at a convenience store. Having married off his older daughter, he now spends the remainder of his savings on a house, purchased at a government auction for far below the market value. He can fix it up a bit and resell it for four times what he paid and buy a REALLY nice place.

The house in question, however, belonged to Kathy Nicolo (Jennifer Connelly), whose husband left her eight months ago (a fact she has not yet revealed to anyone) and who has spent most of her time in bed, depressed, since then. She never bothered with her mail, where she would have found letters from the county, threatening to evict her if she did not pay back taxes on the house. Sure enough, she has now been evicted, and her home immediately sold to Behrani. The county turns out to have been in error -- Kathy never owed any taxes -- but Behrani refuses to sell the house back for anything less than market value. Legally, he is in the right. Ethically, the issue is more complicated.

Though she doesn't articulate it, Kathy needs the house because it is the last vestige of security in her shattered life. Behrani needs it temporarily as a home for his family -- first thing he does is have a deck installed on the roof to give it an ocean view -- but more permanently as a sign that he is now truly an American -- for what is more American than buying something cheap and reselling it for a profit?

It is a battle of wills, then, with Kathy's emotional outbursts and irrational behavior -- aided by Lester Burdon (Ron Eldard), a shady sheriff's deputy she befriends -- pitted against Behrani's deliberate stubbornness.

Connelly brings tremendous spirit and sadness to the role of Kathy, an utter mess of a woman whose primary method of coping is denial, but whom Connelly makes sympathetic. There is a scene in which she calls her brother for help and is told he doesn't have time. He doesn't realize how dire the situation is; she is starting to realize it but doesn't dare admit it to herself. She cries. It is utterly heartbreaking.

Then we have Shohreh Aghdashloo, an Iranian actress who, like the Behranis, fled Iran when the Ayatollah came into power. I didn't know that when I watched the film, but knowing it now adds depth to her already fantastic performance. Nadi barely speaks English and is terrified at the thought of being forced back to Iran. Her love for her family and her resilience in crisis become the film's strong but subtle undercurrent.

And then there is Ben Kingsley, who has an Oscar win and two nominations under his belt already and who deserves at least a nomination for his performance here. His work in "House of Sand and Fog" is careful, measured and powerful. One senses that Kingsley is at all times in complete control of every aspect of his appearance and voice, playing each note exactly as it ought to be played as he brings to life a determined, dignified man who has been pushed to the breaking point.

The human drama captured in this film is some of the most poignant and insightful of the year, up until the final reel, when some of the plot machinations begin to feel like, well, machinations. Still, even in improbable situations, these characters feel like real people, like people we know. Their emotions and attitudes are familiar. We can, and do, weep with them.

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originally posted: 12/25/03 11:04:44
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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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