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House Of Sand and Fog

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: House Of Sand and Fog

Starring: Jennifer Connelly, Ben Kingsley
Director: Vadim Perelman
Rated: R
RunTime: 126 Minutes
Release Date: December 2003
Genre: Drama

*Also starring: Ron Eldard, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Ashley Edner, Frances Fisher, Kia Jam, Navi Rawat, Jonathan Ahdout, Namrata Cooper, Samira Damavandi, Frank Gallegos

Review by Harvey Karten
3½ stars out of 4

When Sir Walter Scott wrote "Oh, what a tangled web we weave,/ When first we practice to deceive!" he probably knew how many stories would be constructed with that theme even long after his death. For example, recent novel selected by the Oprah Book Club, Andre Dubus III's "House of Sand and Fog," has been elegantly adapted to the screen by the director and Shawn Lawrence Otto, enjoying Roger Deakins's spot-on atmospheric photography, which conjures a modest suburban California home enveloped by mist (actually filmed outside Los Angeles in the area of Pacifica). A noirish and unpredictable tale embellished by James Horner's persistent and sometimes intrusive music, "House of Sand and Fog" unravels like a Greek tragedy albeit with a melodramatic conclusion that defies Hollywood formula yet comes across credibly given the nature of the story.

What is particularly unusual is that thematically, the conflict is not between a hero and villain but, in the style of Elizabethan drama about two decent but seriously flawed characters who ultimately realize the foolishness of their dreams, paying heavily for an inability to compromise. The pictures features powerful performances by Jennifer Connelly as the addicted Kathy whose husband bolted months earlier, and Ben Kingsley As Col. Behrani, formerly a colonel in the Shah's Iranian Air Force forced to leave a life of wealth and influence when the Ayatollah and his fundamentalist followers seized power.

Kathy and the colonel are pitted against each other in a film that could have been called "My Life as a House," and indeed the residence, though hardly lavish, comes credibly across as of supreme importance to the two. For Kathy, deserted by a husband and now living a lie to such an extent that she couldn't tell the truth if it hit her in the nose, the bungalow is an addict's shelter from the world's demands, ordinary requirements that she is so unable or unwilling to meet that eight months' of mail lies scattered about unopened. For Behrani, the place is strictly an investment, an opportunity he seizes by buying the place from which Kathy has been wrongfully evicted by the county in order to re-sell and make a windfall profit. For his part, Behrani lies to his wife, Nady (Shohreh Aghdashloo) and teen son Esmail (Jonathan Ahdout), reporting to them that he is an executive with Boeing when in fact he works two menial jobs and desperately needs money to pay for his daughter's wedding, the hotel in which he and his family are staying, and his son's upcoming college tuition. As Lester, a deputy sheriff with an unhappy marriage who is smitten by Kathy, an offer to help leads to his making illegal, escalating threats which threaten to bring him down like the unhappy nobles in the accursed House of Atreus of Greek mythology.

Casting could not have been better. The beautiful Jennifer Connelly, whose role can't help reminding film buffs of her strong presence in Darren Aronofsky's "Requiem for a Dream," conveys the unhappy truth that people with drop-dead gorgeous looks can have problems at least as severe as those who are plain. She refuses to convey her problems to her mother, who could easily have settled Kathy's fiscal irresponsibility, because she knows how hard her dad worked to buy the house for her and is afflicted with self-loathing for screwing up her good fortune. For his part, Ben Kingsley's Behrani resembles no small number of immigrants who came to American shores with advanced degrees or prestigious professions in the armed forces and elsewhere, unable to transfer their talents to their new world and forced to settle for jobs well beneath their station.

In his debut feature film, director Vadim Perelman evokes a smashing performance from the famed Iranian actress Shohreh Aghdashloo as Nadi, leading a bourgeois life that appears crumbling but willing per her Iranian culture to do as her husband asks. Ron Eldard, whom you may remember as a chopper pilot in "Black Hawk Down," is also credible as a man whose lust, even love for the besieged Kathy allows him to leave his wife and two kids while abusing his sheriff's office to threaten the Behranis.

"House of Sand and Fog," opening during Christmas Week, is hardly holiday fare like "Elf" and "Cheaper by the Dozen," and could conceivably be hurt by a public's unwillingness to go with a deeply sad story. Mature movie-goers, however, will delight in this gem, one which respects its audience while at the same time unfolds in a thoroughly accessible format.

Copyright 2003 Harvey Karten

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