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House of Sand and Fog Review

By Shawn McKenzie 01/04/2004

Here we go again with another one of those ďOscar contenders.Ē  Honestly, since I didnít know much about what House of Sand and Fog was about or who the filmmakers were, I was expecting a snoozefest.  I was so glad to be actually entertained.


Kathy Nicolo (Jennifer Connelly) is a depressed young woman who is in a bit of a pickle.  Her husband has left her, she is a former drug addict, and she owes back business taxes on her home in San Francisco.  Her depression over her husband leaving has caused her to ignore her mail that includes notices of her delinquent business tax bills and eventual eviction.  Sheís laying in bed depressed when an official from the county (Scott N. Stevens), a locksmith (Ken Kerman), and two sheriffís officers show up to boot her out.  One of the officers, Deputy Sheriff Lester Burdon (Ron Eldard), takes pity on her and helps her find a place for the meantime.  Pity turns into romantic feelings the more time he spends with her, especially since he is unhappy in his marriage with his wife Carol (Kim Dickens.)  The house, which had been left to her by her late father, is put up for auction.  Even though her newly acquired lawyer Connie Walsh (Frances Fisher) tells her that she might have a case against the county in which she may get her house back, it will take a few months.  This is a major problem for Kathy, because her mother will soon be there to visit, and she hasnít told her about the missing husband or the money problems.  Meanwhile, Massoud Amir Behrani (Ben Kingsley), an Iranian immigrant and former military colonel, buys her house at the auction for a bargain price.  His intention is to resell it for four times the amount he paid for it, so he can finally live the American Dream.  Back in Iran, he had given the impression to people that he was rich so that his daughter Soraya (Navi Rawat) would marry rich.  In reality, he works three jobs just to keep up appearances.  Behrani uses his savings to buy the house and moves into it with his passive wife, Nadi (Shohreh Aghdashloo), and his more Americanized son, Esmail (Jonathan Ahdout.)  He adds a widowís walk to increase the value of the house.  Kathy canít seem to stay away though, and her depression worsens.  This prompts Lester to try to intimidate Behrani into selling the house back to the county at the price he paid for it, hoping that the immigrant would be so scared of the big bad lawman that he would run immediately.  When threats of deportation donít work, and in fact get Lester in trouble at work, things get violently worse.  It takes a tragic set of circumstances to resolve this battle of wills and egos, with each side thinking that they are in the right.


I remember having the same reaction to The Pianist.  Both movies gave me the initial impression that they were going to be boring, and they turned out to be worth seeing.  This one was slightly better, since it was a little shorter in length, meaning shorter spans of slow parts.


The acting was great all around, with Kingsley bringing out another Oscar-worthy performance.  When the tragedy occurs near the end of the film, you can almost feel the pain of the emotions he expresses.  Connelly is believable as a depressed woman, even though Kathy brought on most of her own problems.  Iíve stated several times in past reviews that I donít like movies about depression (since I canít understand why people wallow in it), but her problems seem legitimate, and the movie overall isnít about depression.  It is, for the most part, about overcoming adversity (at least on the part of Kingsleyís character.)


If the movie has one flaw, it is the writing.  I saw the tragic event near the end coming, and I didnít like how the movie concluded.  Director Vadim Perelman co-wrote the script with Shawn Lawrence Otto, and it is adapted from the Andre Dubus III novel of the same name.  I havenít read the book, but from the research I have done, it is adapted almost word for word.  Even though I tend to be more forgiving than most to a screenwriter for swaying off the source material, it is cool if they are actually able to recreate the book exactly.  If this is indeed what happened, maybe I just wouldnít have liked the book.

I donít see House of Sand and Fog getting a Best Picture nomination, but Kingsley seems poised to get a Best Actor nod (heís already up for a Golden Globe and an Independent Spirit Award.)  He deserves it too.  Itís a beautiful film with an interesting story that ends badly, but I would recommend it solely for the performances.

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Catch this movie at the theater if you can...

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Wait until it plays on HBO, Showtime, Starz, etc...

Demand your money back, even if you saw it for free!

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