Watching House of Sand and Fog, easily one of the year’s best films, is like watching an exercise in reality. The film is so emotionally charged that the viewer cannot help but be sucked in. There is not a clear-cut bad guy, which in turn will leave you thinking about the events and characters in this film long after you finish viewing it.
House introduces us to Kathy (Connelly), a recovering addict whose husband left her some six months prior. She lives in the house that her father bought and had finally paid off before his death. She has a pile of unopened envelopes next to her door, so it really comes to no surprise when the IRS shows up to seize the house and evict her. Through this, however, she meets Lester (Eldard), a cop who feels sorry for her and possibly is falling for her.
Meet Col. Behrani (Kingsley), an Iranian exile who has to keep up two jobs (one as a road worker and one as a convenience store clerk) to pay for the home in which his family (including wife Nadi and son Esmail) is living well beyond their means. When he sees Kathy’s property up for auction in the local paper, he buys it for the bargain bin price of $45,000.
Little do we know that the IRS actually seized Kathy’s home over $500, which she was not entitled to owe. With the help of Lester, Kathy tries to scare the Behranis out of the house, but the Col. and his family feel they have every right to own the house.This begins a veritable war of wills between Kathy and Behrani, each needing the home for their own reasons.
The previews and clips of House would lead you to believe that the film is just about two people fighting over the rights to a house. The story digs much deeper than that, and taps into nearly every emotion we as humans have. Never does the movie cop out or feel unrealistic, even in its frantically depressing final half hour.
The pivotal performance here is from Ben Kingsley, who should undoubtedly receive an Oscar nomination for his work as Behrani. He is as stiff and stone-faced as ever, and there are scenes that will have you slack-jawed in amazement by the power he conveys onscreen. His performance keeps the film clicking along, and is one of the year’s best.
Jennifer Connelly continues to take risks in her role choices, and it pays off here. Her Kathy is a very tired, fed-up-with-the-world woman. But she is very directional in her determination to get her house back. For her the house is a last vestige of her being, and reminds her that she is not a total failure.
The most overlooked performance will undoubtedly be Shohreh Aghdashloo as Nadi, Behrani’s supportive, yet overly demanding wife. She is the counter to Behrani’s stiff will, and Aghdashloo turns in a very emotional, convincing performance. Jonathan Ahdout also shines in his first feature film role as Esmail, Behrani’s son.
House is the type of reality film that everyone needs to watch from time to time. It does have racial undertones, but nothing that overshadows the brilliantly written story and stunning acting by all involved. ‘House’ is one of the year’s ten best, and is heavily recommended for those needing a break from standard Hollywood fare.
Length: 126 Minutes
Rating: R for some violence/disturbing images, language, and a scene of sexuality.
Theatrical Release: December 19, 2003 (Limited)
Directed by: Vadim Perelman
Written by: Vadim Perelman & Shawn Lawrence Otto. Based on the novel by Andre Dubus III.
Cast: Jennifer Connelly, Ben Kingsley, Ron Eldard, Frances Fisher, Kim Dickens, Shohreh Aghdashloo