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House of Sand and
Review written by: Alex Sandell
House of Sand and Fog is possibly the most foreign feeling non foreign film to ever hit theaters. The movie is character driven, deliberately paced, and not concerned with flashy effects, fancy cuts or any of the other usual Hollywood trappings. The events of the film stem from the seizure and sale of a house. It's a story where the "bad guy" is the system. Any United States citizen ever fucked over by the pricks in power and their worship of "procedure" will find the story believable and full of suspense. People who have managed to float through life in a white picket fence bubble, without asking any questions, will most likely be scratching their heads in disbelief as they leave the theater.
Many of the bubble boys and girls that have never been arrested, evicted, or dealt with authority in any way, other than possibly receiving a ticket for making a right turn on red, have commented that "if cops are this stupid and scary anywhere in this country, we better all pray for our lives." Well, many cops are that stupid and scary, and it's not just in some parts of this country, but nearly all of them. So, you had better start praying. House of Sand and Fog is not an implausible film. It's actually quite conceivable, even if it does occasionally become too predictable.
Kathy Nicolo (Jennifer Connelly) is already having a bad day, when her house is mistakenly seized by the county. Kathy's husband left her 8 months earlier, and since that time she has managed to get herself to work (she cleans homes for the white picket bubble people), and keep herself sober. When she's not working, she apparently spends most of her time in bed, wallowing in self-pity and depression. She hasn't told her family that her husband left her, and silently sheds tears when her mother tells her they'll be visiting on the 18th. All she really has left is her home. And, not long after talking to her mother, that is taken from her, due to a bureaucratic blunder.
Massoud Amir Behrani (Ben Kingsley) was once a powerful and wealthy Iranian Colonel working under the Shah's rule. He has immigrated to the United States, and now spends his days doing road construction and his nights working as a clerk at a gas station. He's desperately trying to keep his dignity, but is quickly running out of money. When he sees that he's down to around $50,000, he knows he must move his wife and son out of the luxurious apartment where they currently reside, and into a more reasonably priced home. When he sees a house on the ocean is to be publicly auctioned, he takes a chance and spends his remaining dollars to purchase the home.
Sheriff Lester Burdon (Ron Eldard) falls for Kathy when her house is evicted, and offers to help her get it back. The married Burdon ends up having an affair with Kathy and becomes even more obsessed with getting her home back. Colonel Behrani has no interest in selling the house back to the county at the price he paid, being that he has discovered he can get four times that by selling it on his own. Wanting to return dignity to his family, his heart is set on selling the house and pocketing the cash. Sheriff Burdon has no sympathy for Behrani's plight, and threatens to have his friend down at immigration deport the Colonel, unless he sells the house back to the county at cost.
House of Sand and Fog is a film built on a foundation of tension. Cultures collide, lawyers fail, and only the system is left standing. It's hard not to imagine the "system" as one individual, looking the other way and quietly whistling a tune as it leaves the vicinity. House of Sand and Fog does an excellent job at showing the audience that when the power elite shit all over everyone, they're usually the only ones able to walk away without having to deal with the stink.
Some people think the last 30 minutes of the film get carried away. I completely disagree (and I'm not going to give away what happens in the last 30 minutes). The problem I had with the movie was with the little signals it left throughout, to let us know that things were getting worse. Kathy's kicked out of the room she's staying at ― my god! she's going to start smoking, again! Lester drinks wine in front of a depressed Kathy ― my god! she's going to start drinking again! These plot devices reminded me of the numerous times in Freddy vs. Jason when Freddy kept explaining to the audience how he wasn't strong enough to kill yet, so he'd let "old Jason have some fun." I'll never understand why filmmakers feel the need to spell everything out for their audience.
What saves this film, more than anything else, is the acting. The performances given by Ben Kingsley and Jennifer Connelly make this a must see movie. The only weak link in the acting chain is Ron Eldard. Giving Eldard one of the leading roles is akin to giving Pauly Shore not just a part in Hamlet but the part of Hamlet. The role of Sheriff Lester Burdon is a demanding one, and Eldard isn't quite up to it.
Vadim Perelman does surprisingly well in his screenwriting, directing and producing debut. He keeps the film tense and knows how to direct actors. He manages to bring out Jennifer Connelly's best performance (Hulk is now forgiven) and a performance by Kingsley that is only rivaled by his work in Gandhi. The film could be better paced in parts. Still, for a debut, this is an impressive piece of work.
If you've ever dealt with the system, you're going to like this movie. If you're a picket fence bubble boy or girl, you won't believe and/or understand this movie. If you're part of the system, you'll absolutely hate this movie. You make the call.
House of Sand and Fog isn't your typical "feel good" film. It's a challenging picture and one that never kowtows to the Hollywood clichés. It isn't a movie that you'll leave with a smile on your face. It won't make you feel good about humanity. It doesn't star Julia Roberts. At the same time, it's a powerful sort of filmmaking that has nearly gone extinct. For that and the acting alone, any serious filmgoer shouldn't miss it.
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Coming soon -- The Butterfly Effect, House of Sand and Fog, and other stuff!
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Text ©(Copyright) 2003 Alex Sandell [All Rights Reserved].