out of Five
Running time: 126
Brilliantly written, emotionally devastating film that thoroughly deserves its two Oscar nominations.
House of Sand and Fog is cut from the same cloth as similar ‘feel bad’ movies such as In The Bedroom, with which it shares certain thematic similarities – perhaps it’s not such a coincidence, as the author of House of Sand and Fog is the son of the author of In The Bedroom. (Family get-togethers must be a laugh riot).
At any rate, this is an impressively directed, brilliantly acted film that packs a devastating emotional punch and has deservedly picked up Oscar nominations for both Ben Kingsley and Shoreh Aghdashloo. And, yes, “Jennifer Connelly wuz robbed”, etc.
Adapted From The Novel
Adapted from the best-selling novel by Andre Dubus III, House of Sand and Fog stars Jennifer Connelly as Kathy Nicolo, a recovering addict, devastated by the loss of both her father and her husband. As the film opens, she is evicted from the house she owns (a small bungalow in Northern California) because she has hasn’t been opening her mail and has neglected to pay various taxes.
The house is quickly sold at a public auction; the new owner is Massoud Amir Behrani (Ben Kingsley), a former Colonel in the Shah of Iran’s airforce, who has hit hard times since coming to America with his family (Shoreh Aghdashloo and Jonathan Ahdout) and now works two menial jobs in order to maintain the pretence of affluence.
Massoud sees the house as the first step on his family’s road to recovery and pours the last of his life-savings into its purchase. When confronted with Kathy’s situation, he is genuinely sorry for her but, though he feels guilty, his own desperation outweighs his sense of decency and he refuses to sell back the house. Meanwhile, Kathy finds an unlikely ally in married police officer Lester Burdon (Ron Eldard), who assists with her eviction and begins an ill-advised affair with her - his hot-headed efforts to help her get back the house ultimately lead to tragedy.
Kingsley Is Outstanding
In the wrong hands, this could have been reduced to a standard
Hollywood-style Good Vs Evil plot. However, Perelman has a sure grip on both his script and his actors and the film is all the more harrowing for forcing us to sympathise with both sides. Kingsley is outstanding, giving a heart-breaking, dignified performance that rightly earned him an Oscar nomination. Aghdashloo is equally good – particularly in her scenes with Connelly, where she takes pity on her despite not understanding what she’s saying.
Connelly is also wonderful, conveying deep sadness and pain with her sad, mournful features and completely inhabiting her character. On an entirely Shallow And Obvious level it is also worth noting that a) she appears to have got her figure back after a recent period of McBeal-like skinniness, and b) she spends almost the entire movie in a pair of denim hotpants.
Keen followers of Connelly’s career may also be amused to learn that House of Sand and Fog even has a shot of her looking contemplative on the end of a pier, just like the identical shots in both Requiem For A Dream and Dark City. Perhaps it’s in her contract?
If there is a fault with the film, it’s only that against such well-written characters as Massoud, his family and Kathy, Lester seems like too much of a caricature, his behaviour that much more over the top than the others – in the same way, Eldard himself seems a little out of his depth.
That said, whether you see the film as a moving, powerful tragedy or simply as a cautionary tale about the need to always open your mail, House of Sand and Fog is a terrifically acted film that just might be the Feel Bad Movie Of The Year. In a good way.