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House of Sand and Fog

  House of Sand and Fog
"We are young. No one can tell us we're wrong.....Love is a battlefield."

© 2003, Dreamworks
All Rights Reserved

After her husband leaves and her father passes away, Kathy (Jennifer Connelly) finds herself in a depressive haze. Her father has left her the family home, but she fails to pay the property taxes. The house is taken away from Kathy and quickly auctioned off to Iranian immigrant, Behrani (Ben Kingsley) and his family. Behrani has been looking for a way to restore honor to his name after being chased out of his homeland years ago, and he views the house as a stepping stone toward greener pastures. But Kathy will not go silently. She enlists her new lover, a police officer named Lester (Ron Eldard "Ghost Ship"), to help her get the property back, through charity or by force.

The story of "House" is about the battle for a residence, but there is no psycho terror creeping in the dark. "House of Sand and Fog" (IMDB listing) is about the moral power struggle within, and the extent to which tragedy will follow a life until it is heard clearly. This is an impressive film, clearing away all other pictures this season that dare say they explore misfortune and despair.

The star of the film is Jennifer Connelly, whose forte is playing the disintegrating soul through weepy eyes. That's not a knock on this fine actress, but her performance as Kathy falls well within her normal diameter of acting reach. She holds up the four walls of drama well, but it is Ben Kingsley who illuminates the room. This is an outstanding performance from the actor, who has had no shortage of brilliant work in his career ("Gandhi, "Schindler's List," "Sexy Beast"). Behrani is a man trying to maintain his last thin strands of pride as he succumbs to the daily humiliations of life in America. Kingsley doesn't play this through speeches or yelling, but in the dark pits of his wizened eyes. It's in this furrowed brow of anger, resentment, and pity that Behrani lies in wait for an opportunity to change his fortunes. Kingsley is extraordinary, mixing a performance that has the audience's sympathy from the outset without even trying, and shading it lightly to give a fuller sense of Behrani's motivations, warts and all, and a candid representation of this character. A tragic moment befalls Behrani towards the end of the film, and the way Kingsley plays through it is so refined, so careful in the selection of emotions and resolve, that I have no doubt it will be one of the finest pieces of acting you'll find this year, if not this last decade. It overwhelms in its complexity and subtlety.

The rest of the film has a hard time living up to the bar that Kingsley has raised. This is a tightly wound drama/thriller, steered by first time Russian filmmaker Vadim Perelman, and based on the best seller by Andre Dubus. Perelman, who also co-scripted, shows remarkable competence in building this story up from the ground, carefully taking the prose and not wasting too much screen time on superfluous subplots and ideas. But, in at least two moments during the picture, Perelman cannot seem to bridge the gap between the book and the film. This makes for some very awkward moments between Kathy and Lester, who I assume had a much bigger role in the novel. Blandly played by actor Ron Eldard, Lester is a troublesome character; needed for the resolution of the film, but also the element of "House" that feels the most contrived.

The ending of "House of Sand and Fog" is a smack in the head of what audiences might be expecting in this day and age of "play it safe" movies. Though over-scored by composer James Horner, the final moments of the film are a cinematic miracle of sorts, like Moses parting the Red Sea in "Ten Commandments." The picture concludes with such integrity and truthfulness that I was floored. It goes way beyond happy or sad endings, and just plays out with a realism and respect for both the characters and the situation. Nobody is let off easy in "House," and that's the way it should be. While the film dips momentarily in quality now and again, it defines itself with Kingsley's interior raging, and an ending you won't soon forget.

Filmfodder Grade: A-

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