House of Sand and Fog Movie Review

Real estate brokers would call Vadim Perelman's solemn House of Sand and Fog a fixer-upper. At first glance, the handsome House is an easy sell. It's gorgeously shot and well acted. Skilled composer James Horner even chimes in with an aptly somber score of deliberate piano key strokes and nothing more. A closer look reveals cracks in the foundation, though, meaning House wouldn't pass a thorough homeowner's inspection, as it isn't really built to cinematic code.

Based on the best-selling novel by Andre Dubus III, House constructs a legal and ethical battle between two individuals at conflicting crossroads. How much you buy into it will depend on which of the film's two antagonists you side with. Are you a compassionate bleeding heart willing to forgive even the most irresponsible and bottomed-out loser? Or are you a strict rule-abider who swears by the letter of the law and is hesitant to play the sympathy card?

The concrete holding House up is Ben Kingsley. He plays Massoud Amir Behrani, a former colonel in the Iranian army who moved his wife (Shohreh Aghdashloo) and son to America but has endured hardships. Kingsley's commendable skills are matched by co-star Jennifer Connelly, an actress who appears most comfortable in traumatic, demoralizing roles. She plays Kathy, a reformed alcoholic who's stuck in a downward spiral. She's so busy wallowing in her self-inflicted depression that she fails to pay approximately $500 in taxes on her home. As a result, the house is seized, auctioned, and sold to Behrani for a discounted price.

Without recognizing it, these two characters share a struggle to maintain their fabricated lifestyles, and their independent plans are tied to the house. Behrani views it as a chance to regain a financial foothold, while Kathy sees it as her last hold on stability. If nothing else, Perelman stresses the importance of the property to each party.

Through no fault of Connelly's, there's just nothing to like about Kathy, so our loyalty is hopelessly one-sided in favor of the Behranis. Kathy is dependent, whiny, and responsible for more than a few bad decisions. A spoiled child, she swallows pills and nibbles a handgun when she doesn't get her way. When Kathy and her ignorant cop boyfriend Lester (Ron Eldard) strong-arm the Behrani family despite the fact that they don't have a legal or moral leg to stand on, they look stupid - and make most Americans look like immigrant-hating bigots.

Is House anti-American? Possibly. Perelman slips in enough jabs at Kathy and Lester to clarify which side he favors. The mismatched pair mooch off friends, abuse the power of his authority position, and scream like brats when opposed. Meanwhile, Behrani's hard-working son, Esmail (Jonathan Ahdout), is offering to take up a second paper route if it means his family will be able to keep the house. Boy, the Americans sure look justified and unselfish, don't they? House makes its biggest mistake in thinking it occupies an ambiguous moral gray area, when in reality it was half right and half wrong from the beginning.

Gotta keep the feet clean.


Comments

House of Sand and Fog Rating

" OK "

Rating: R, 2003

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