of Sand and Fog. Dreamworks
presents a film directed by Vadim Perelman. Written by
Perelman and Shawn Lawrence Otto. Running time: 126 minutes.
Rated R (for some violence/disturbing images, language
and a scene of sexuality). Starring Ben Kingsley, Jennifer
Connelly, Ron Eldard, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Jonathan Ahdout,
of Sand and Fog
House of Sand and Fog doesn't take sides and it doesn't
pull punches. It takes two realistic, sympathetic people and
puts them on opposing side of a dispute that neither of them
caused. There's rarely a moment in the film that we don't
see both sides of the conflict; there's never a moment that
we feel either side is completely right or wrong. The end
is one of the grimmest of the year, but such a finale is inevitable.
Anything less would be cheating.
Nicolo (Jennifer Connelly) is a recovering drug addict, living
alone in her father's house, the only thing she has left.
When the county comes knocking at her door, Kathy's house
is reposessed for unpaid taxes that she never owed. Kathy
ignored the notification letters, and now she is forced to
resort to legal action to get her house back. But before Kathy
gets a chance to take action, her house has been put up for
Massoud Amir Behrani (Ben Kingsley). A high-ranking colonel
for the Shah in his native Iran, Behrani, along with his wife
Aghdashloo) and son (Jonathan
Ahdout), was forced to flee for America when the Shah was
deposed. Behrani purchases Kathy's home at a fraction of its
worth, in an attempt to sell it back at a profit. When the
county catches their mistake, and offers to buy the house
back from Behrani for the price he paid, he refuses, demanding
market value. Kathy finds comfort in local police officer
Lester Burton (Ron Eldard), who leaves his wife for her, and
uses intimidation to try to force Behrani to sell.
course, neither Kathy nor Behrani has done anything wrong.
Both have a legal claim to the house, and neither have any
reason to give in to the other. Kathy refuses to accept her
loss. In her eyes, Behrani is a thief. "You stole this
house from me," she says to his face. "This is a
stolen house." Behrani views Kathy as an irresponisble
woman who was punished for not following the law. Both misunderstand
the other's position, and both refuse to attempt to see it
from the other's perspective.
is what makes House of Sand and Fog so compelling.
Kathy and Behrani are fully formed individuals with the same
complex emotions and feelings anyone would have in their situation.
Both have our sympathies, but neither have our support, either.
We sympathize with Kathy, but she should've opened her mail.
We understand Behrani's refusal to sell, and we feel for his
predicament, but he is being a bit greedy and stubborn.
When an inevitable event drives the two together as allies
of a sort, it is believable and makes the impending tragedy
all the more heartbreaking.
Connelly, after winning an Oscar for A Beautiful Mind,
stands a chance at another nomination here. And she deserves
one. She never goes into histrionic emotional displays, and
instead shows Kathy's inner turmoil, which is harder than
over-the-top displays, anyhow. But as good as Connelly is,
Sir Ben Kinglsey overshadows her with his mesmerizing performance.
His Behrani is a man of great pride and honor. When tragedy
strikes, Kingsley gives a display of anguish more wrenching
than even Sean Penn's work in Mystic River.
supporting cast is also superlative. Ron Eldard is believable
in an unlikeable role. Iranian actress Shohreh
Aghdashloo gives a lovely performance as Behrani's
wife, who tries to mediate the conflict. Jonathan Ahdout is
making his feature film debut.
of Sand and Fog
is not likely to have financial success, because films this
grim don't generally succeed comercially. But there have been
few movies released this year (or in recent years) that are
this evenhanded or heartbreaking. It may not be a film I'm
likely to see again soon, but it's also not one I'm likely
2003 Matt Noller