158 – House of Sand and Fog

Kathy (Jennifer Connelly) is an alcoholic whose husband has abandoned her. She awakes one morning from a fitful sleep to see local deputies on her front step. She’s being evicted for failure to pay housing taxes. Stunned, Kathy is suddenly homeless.

Kathy finds a lawyer, but she soon discovers that the house has been sold to a former colonel in the Iranian army (Ben Kingsley), who quickly moves in with his wife Nadi (Shohreh Aghdashloo) and son Esmail (Jonathan Ahdout).

Kathy learns, through her lawyer, that her home was wrongfully seized. The county offers to buy the house back from Col. Behrani, but he refuses – unless his asking price of four times the amount he paid is met.

And so the cycle is set into place. In her mind, Kathy cannot live without the house in which she grew up, the house her father left to her and her brother when he passed away. She must have it back, by any means necessary.

But don’t think this is nothing more than a revenge/justice thriller. The heavily nuanced characters compel the viewer to feel no small amount of empathy for them, even when they behave poorly. Kathy takes up with a kind deputy named Lester (Ron Eldard), who offers her a place to live while he tries to get her house back. Lester’s married, of course, although he claims the marriage ran out of passion a long while back. This is a character we’ve all seen time and time again – the guy who says it’s over and it’s just a matter of time before the divorce becomes final – but somehow Eldard slips a few extra layers onto the character, and it’s tough to determine if he’s Good or Bad.

About two-thirds of the way through the movie, the plot settles into a familiar storyline (which I won’t explain here). At that point, I started to think of this as a glorified slasher film. But almost as soon as that through had taken root in my mind, the twists and turns began to shoot at me with intensifying rapidity; it’s not immensely difficult to follow the plot, but there are definitely turns that most viewers won’t see coming.

The most pleasant surprise in this movie is Connelly. No longer is she the preternatural heroine of Labryinth; no longer is she the sex object in Career Opportunities. She’s now done three incredible movies, movies in which her character was both lush in scope and luscious in appearance: Pollock, A Beautiful Mind, and this one. I’m not shocked that she can turn in such a fine performance, but three times in three disparate movies? Tough to do. She deserves all of the praise she gets.

The ending is as compelling as they come, although it’s more than a little sad. But unlike movies that have downer endings, this one really hits you in the heart; because each character is both good and bad, one feels conflict where in other films one might feel simple relief or gratification.

House of Sand and Fog is an absorbing, riveting psychological drama that pushes all of the right buttons with help of a first-rate script (Andre Dubas III’s novel and director Vadim Perelman’s screenplay) and a marvelous cast.

House of Sand and Fog: ***1/2

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