House of Sand and Fog

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      This is a good movie but I just hate watching stories like this where the characters get into a death spiral, and won't or can't get out of it. It's fascinating and horrible all at the same time, like watching a NASCAR race, waiting for the inevitable crash.  House of Sand and Fog tells the story of a young woman (Jennifer Connelly) whose house is mistakenly seized for non-payment of taxes.  Before the mix up can be resolved, the house is auctioned off to an Iranian immigrant (Ben Kingsley) who moves in with his wife (Shohreh Aghdashloo) and son (Jonathan Ahdout).  After helping to evict Connelly, a sheriff's deputy (Ron Eldard) takes a more personal interest in her.  Connelly at first tries to get the house back with the help of a lawyer (Frances Fisher), but then tries other means with the help of Eldard.

    Although the setup described above makes for an interesting confrontation between Connelly and Kingsley, I couldn't shake the feeling that this wouldn't have happened in real life.  The government moved awfully fast to seize and sell the house. Why couldn't they reverse the process just as fast once they realized their mistake?  My disbelief mirrored that of Connelly's character in the movie. Kingsley's character and his motivations are believable up to a point. He after all had to move to the States after losing everything in the revolution in Iran. He has been working several jobs and not sleeping, much like Chiwetel Ejiofor in Pretty Dirty Things, which is a much better film. House of Sand and Fog quickly descends into madness as Connelly, Eldard and Kingsley all lose possession of their wits simultaneously. What saves House of Sand and Fog, despite my lack of faith in the script, is the strength of the cast.  Everyone knows that Ben Kingsley is one of the best.  He has shown it over and over in films such as Gandhi, Turtle Diary, Searching for Bobby Fischer, Schindler's List and Sexy Beast, to name a few. He is great again here. Jennifer Connelly has also been showing that her Oscar for A Beautiful Mind was not a fluke. I was just watching her recently, at age 14, in Once Upon a Time in America.  She has come a long way since then.  Ron Eldard has also come a long way since leaving the cast of ER. Shohreh Aghdashloo, who plays Kingsley's wife, has actually lived a life quite similar to the character she plays in House of Sand and Fog. She was an actress in Iran before the revolution and was forced to leave the country.  She is excellent and has been showing up on a lot of Best Supporting Actress lists.

       In addition to its strong performances, the direction by Vadim Perelman is nicely atmospheric.  He has come out of the woodwork to direct.  His previous experience, after dropping out of Ryerson College in Toronto, is in directing commercials.  So, I don't know what to say.  Despite the script problems, House of Sand and Fog is worth seeing.  It's not going to be on my top ten list but it's pretty good.