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House of Sand and Fog
2003 - R - 126 Mins.
Director: Vadim Perelman
Producer: Michael London
Written By: Vadim Perelman
Starring: Ben Kingsley, Jennifer Connelly, Ron Eldard, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Jonathan Ahdout, Frances Fisher, Kim Dickens
Review by: Carl Langley
   

I get to sleep with Jennifer Connelly, not you! Got it?
About half way through House of Sand and Fog, Vadim Perelman’s adaptation of Andre Dubus III's acclaimed novel, which was honored by Oprah, tumbles like a Jenga tower. For all that it is worth, this florid tale is magnificently told, until one cataclysmic event happens after the other and soon enough, there is too much debris to shape things up. As in most cases with failure, the director is abstracted from the film’s monstrosities that make it crumble. It appears this has happened with Perelman.

Kathy Nicolo (Jennifer Connelly), recovering alcoholic, has moved from Massachusetts to the west coast to kick her habit, residing in the house that was left to her by her father. Her character is grim from the beginning, as we discover that her husband walked out on her because she wanted to have kids. To augment her nightmare, her house is evicted because of some government error and her solipsism (she fails to open up the envelopes that warn her of eviction unless she coughs up 500 bucks for a tax bill). A perfidious, yet sincere cop (Ron Eldard) helps her move her things into storage and advises her to seek legal action. Before the attorney (Frances Fisher) is able to pursue a response, the house is sold by the government via auction.

The buyer is former Iranian Air Force colonel, Massoud Amir Behrani (Ben Kingsley) who, along with his suffering wife (Shohreh Aghdashloo) and two children, were forced to flee after working under the shah during the revolution. Behrani now labors himself laying asphalt down during the day and managing a register for a convenient store at dusk. After purchasing the bungalow for a pittance, he refurbishes it and puts in on market, hoping to inherit enough profit so his family can live without worry and he can afford to put his son through college.

The profits of Behrani come at the expense of Kathy. In hopes she can keep her sanity, Kathy fights to claim for what is rightfully hers. The weakest moments arrive from here, as the deputy, who is now Kathy’s lover, threatens to deport Behrani’s family if he does not sell the house back to the county. This excavates the tension and fills in the ludicrousness. Everything was brilliant up this point. Why must a heavy-laden testosterone cop walk onto the scene with his marriage problems, sleep with the girl, and ruin a perfectly good character-driven story between the two protagonists? The relationship between these two protagonists is expressively frivolous; there need not be a worthless supporting character to come muck things up.

The rivalry for the house is the foundation for House of Sand and Fog and both Jennifer Connelly and Ben Kingsley keep this film from flailing apart altogether, providing stealth and vigor for their roles. Kingsley is more impressive than anyone, bringing a taste of the sharp fervor he portrayed in Sexy Beast, and when Oscar nominations are announced, it will be no shock to see his name as one of the five. Connelly, who masterfully portrays the depressive heroines, keeps up with her co-star and turns in Academy Award material as well. Sadly, this is just another case of a splendid story with terrific performances left out in the open too long and gone sour.

House of Sand and Fog is an emphatically tragic drama about several characters making the wrong decisions at the wrong time. The choices that these characters make, save for one supporting male, seem morally just in their minds and that is where the alluring plot seizes our intent focus. The unwavering premise is captivating and thrilling in certain dramatic junctures. Faster than you can say “Top ten nominee,” outlandish events manifest themselves into the works, leading to far too many climatic scenes in the end, leaving the feeling of manipulation instead of the maudlin sentiment it shoots for.

Springing from the depths of being a commercial director, this is not a bad debut for Vadim Perelman. He understands his characters, but unfortunately loses grasp on them. It is said he remained too faithful to the novel, which I would not know because I have not read it. Either way, it is a shame he could not clean things up in the end, because this could have been one heckuva motion picture.
 
Movie Guru Rating
Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not.
  3 out of 5 stars

 
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