It's a simple story, really, about nothing more than the disputed ownership of
a small house. But HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG, Dreamworks' big Oscar contender, is
a film so powerful and devastating that watching it is likely to invoke the
same emotions as attending the funeral of a loved one. It is easily one of the
very best films of this or any year.
In three memorable and Oscar worthy performances: Jennifer Connelly plays Kathy
Nicolo, an ex-addict and the original owner of the house in question, Ben
Kingsley plays Colonel Behrani, an ex-officer under the Shah of Iran, and
Shohreh Aghdashloo plays Naderah, his gracious and loving wife. The Behranis,
now American citizens, are the new owners of the house after the Colonel bought
it at auction. Had it not been for a mistake about a $500 business tax bill
that Kathy never owed and had Kathy not been so out of it emotionally that she
stopped opening her mail, her house would have never been taken from her.
After her husband left, she turned into an emotional wreck. She figures --
wrongly of course -- that a lawyer can easily get her house back. Along the
way, she falls for a married deputy sheriff named Lester Burdon (Ron Eldard),
who is creepily helpful and more than willing to bend the law to threaten the
Behranis with deportation if they don't return the house to its last owner.
The other and even more compelling story is that of the Behrani family. The
father works two menial jobs, a hard labor day job in highway maintenance and a
mindless evening one as a clerk at a convenience store. In-between, he's like
Clark Kent changing his uniforms, not for a cape, but for a businessman's crisp
new suit. To keep up appearances with his friends in order to arrange for the
best marriage possible for his daughter, he pretends to be a successful
business executive. In addition to the cost of the wedding, the family is
saving for an expensive college education for their teenage son. Living beyond
their means, even with his two jobs, the Colonel sees their salvation in his
scheme to buy distressed properties and turn them around for a quick profit.
Kathy's house is the first one in his new plan.
All of the characters are complex, sympathetic and completely genuine. Vadim
Perelman, in his directorial debut, crafts a movie that packs such an emotional
wallop that you'll spend a good part of the last act crying while thinking to
yourself, "Please God, no!" But there isn't a single manipulative or wasted
moment in the film. Watching it is a tender and touching experience, and the
best part of the picture is its lack of an awkwardly stuck on Hollywood ending.
Rarely has a movie been this gripping. I've seen it twice now. It was great
the first time, and it somehow managed to be even better the second.
HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG runs 2:06. It is rated R for "some violence/disturbing
images, language and a scene of sexuality" and would be acceptable for
Copyright © 2003 Steve Rhodes