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House of Sand and Fog More at IMDbPro »

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295 out of 353 people found the following review useful:

Incredible Comment On Cultural Gap In America

Author: josephinerenae3 from Chicago, IL
25 December 2003

First of all, anyone who says that s/he didn't "get the point of this movie" needs to go back to watching movies produced solely by Jerry Brukheimer because the point could not be more apparent to anyone of any intelligence. House of Sand and Fog is a commentary on the cultural gap between American-born citizens and immigrants from war-ridden countries such as Iran. Unfortunately that gap is shown for what it is: wider than ever.

The character of Kathy is portrayed brilliantly by Jennifer Connelly as an emotionally unstable young woman caught up in the turmoil of losing both her husband and her family's home within eight months of each other. Kathy ignorantly fails to realize that the house her dead father has left her brother and her is in jeopardy of being put up for auction due to unpaid taxes. Kathy comprehends, too late, that the thirty years it took her father to pay off their home has been in vain when it is sold to an Iranian family shortly after auction. Her character is pinned against Ben Kingsley's Colonel Behrani when Behrani buys Kathy's auctioned house in order to return his own family to a sense of stability. The audience is conflicted by its empathy for both character's need to satisfy his and her own pride in family and the preservation of his and her heritage.

The catalyst for the two characters' conflict with each other is drawn from the supporting character of Officer Lester (Ron Eldard), a representation of the ignorance and lack of empathy some Americans feel towards people whose lives have led them to seek better ones in the United States. While Behrani's main motive is to protect his family and give it a sense of security, Lester puts his own selfish pleasures before the wellbeing of his own family. Behrani and Lester are complete opposites, Behrani clearly the nobler. It is clear why Kingsley chose to do this role: Kingsley's portrayal of an Iranian refugee is both superb and honest, not to mention Oscar-worthy. The film shows that there are greater sacrifices in this world than those materialistic in nature. Ironically many Americans might find that point hard to absorb, probably the reason why they are so quick to write off House of Sand and Fog as "one of the worst movies" they have ever seen. House of Sand and Fog is a film, not a movie. Those who give this film a thumbs down need to get a dictionary and distinguish the difference between the two terms. Andre Dubus III's novel has been done justice. Thumbs up.

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220 out of 254 people found the following review useful:

Brilliant, but Excruciatingly Tragic

10/10
Author: eht5y from United States
10 December 2004

Since antiquity, tragedy has been regarded as the highest and most important form of drama for its ability to arouse the deepest sense of pathos and empathy from its audience.

Remind yourself of this if you choose to watch 'House of Sand and Fog.' I can state emphatically that 'House' is one of the most artfully directed and acted films of the last five years, but make no mistake: it is a tragedy, and only the hardest and most jaded of hearts will emerge from the experience undisturbed. It is a dissertation on sorrow, and while I'm glad I saw it, I can't say I had a whole lot of fun.

'House' was directed by newcomer Vadim Perelman, who also adapted the screenplay from the acclaimed novel by Andre Dubus III. Perelman tweaks the story in some respects but is ultimately faithful to the novel's style and sensibility. As in the novel, the story is filtered through alternating perspectives, the foremost of which are Behrani (Ben Kingsley), a Persian ex-pat and a former high-ranking officer under the Shah in Iran, and Kathy Lazaro (Jennifer Connelly), a severely depressed recovering alcoholic tenuously holding onto sobriety but nevertheless gradually self-destructing after the collapse of her marriage.

The two characters are drawn together, appropriately enough, by the house of the title, a small but elegant coastal property in fictional Pacific County, California (the novel sets the house in Malibu). The house belongs to Kathy, who inherited it (along with her older brother, who lives elsewhere) from her deceased father. Kathy has become a victim of a bureaucratic snafu--she has been erroneously charged with delinquency on taxes for a non-existent business--but due to her textbook depressive refusal to open and answer her mail, she wakes up one morning to find that the county has evicted her and put her property up for auction.

Enter Colonel Behrani, a regal man of aristocratic bearing whose ruthless determination to maintain the standard of living his family has always been accustomed to is simultaneously honorable and pathetic. Behrani is the story's tragic hero in the classical sense. Behrani has been saving and shrewdly watching the classified ads waiting for a chance to snap up a foreclosure at a cut rate price, make modest renovations, and then resell the property at peak market value in order to acquire a six-figure nest-egg to fund his son's education and improve his family's future prospects in the US. Fortuitously, the house he buys at auction--Kathy's house--is a coastal property bearing some resemblance to his former home on the Caspian Sea, back before his family fled Iran. The house is seen in an early flashback, an eerie montage wherein a younger Behrani in full-dress service uniform observes as a row of enormous trees are severed at the trunk so that the sea will be visible from the balcony where he stands.

To elaborate the plot further would be too revealing, so I'll simply say that the lead performances in this film are sublime. I didn't think at first that I'd be able to believe the stunningly beautiful Jennifer Connelly as Kathy, a woman who redefines the term 'self-destructive,' and yet Connelly manages once again as she did in 'A Beautiful Mind' to prove that her talent and skill match or even exceed the looks. It really goes without saying that Ben Kingsley's Behrani is a stunning performance--Kingsley is a mesmerizingly charismatic screen presence and a chameleonic character actor; few actors in the history of film have been able to so convincingly disappear into their characters while projecting such a distinctive, distinguished persona. Both actors master these demanding roles such that the audience feels a broad scope of contradictory and ambiguous emotions towards their characters; neither is completely sympathetic nor despicable, and though in the Aristotelian sense Behrani is the story's tragic hero, it's resolution remains ambiguous, as does the ultimate responsibility for the tragic denouement.

The direction of the film has its occasional hitches, but many of Vadim Perelman's shots are brilliantly captivating. The Northern California coastline is exploited to maximum effect, and Perelman offers numerous shots and angles of seamless appeal--they are original and engaging without feeling forced or consciously 'film-schoolish.' It's quite a beautiful movie to look at, from the meticulous arrangement of the Behrani's luxurious furniture and decorations to the patience with which Perelman lets his actors' nuanced facial expressions and physical gestures unfold the depths of their characters.

I have some slight reservation about recommending the film simply because its tragedy is so unmerciful. And there are moments where you may find yourself exasperated with the characters and unwilling to maintain your sympathy for them. Personally, I think it's worth a look for the quality of the performances alone. It's also quite original and distinctive in style. It's devastatingly sad, however, and so should be reserved for appropriate moods.

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177 out of 210 people found the following review useful:

An unfailingly beautiful piece of work

10/10
Author: breakneck from Washington, DC
30 December 2003

"House of Sand and Fog" is by far the finest film I've seen this year, and probably the best I've seen since the dial turned from the 1990's into the new millennium.

Vadim Perelman makes a movie so astoundingly beautiful that one has to think he's been doing this for years, but this is his first film. Set in a fog-drenched Southern California community, Perelman sets two immoveable forces apart from each other -- Cathy, a recovering alcoholic burdened by the memory of her late father, still trying to prove that she is a responsible person in his eyes, and Behrani, a colonel driven out of Iran with his family and desperately trying to maintain a life of stability and promise. In these two roles, Jennifer Connelly and Ben Kingsley give steely performances, each presenting troubled souls trapped within stubborn facades. Connelly once again gives a masterful performance, balancing a reckless sensuality with the desire to find acceptance and love within anything, even a house where the memories have become so painful that the mail becomes too much to take.

Kingsley, of course, is perfect. The subtleties of his facial expressions when presented with moments of joy and frustration are masterfully restrained. This is his best performance of his illustrious career.

When Kingsley and Connelly finally clash, halfway through the movie, the movie, having until then been a paean to silence and unspoken loyalties, becomes a terrifying thriller, riveting everyone with whom I saw the picture. Perelman moves from a mood piece to a suspenseful drama effortlessly. A jaw-dropping conclusion completes a powerful, unbelievably sad piece of work.

After a couple years of not finding a movie that stirred me, this is it, what we all look for in movies -- a harrowing story, beautifully filmed, cathartic and elegant. Joy is very difficult to spot in the film, but "House of Sand and Fog" provides the joy we get when being moved to powerful emotions by a wonderful symphony.

My best film of 2003 -- unquestionably 10/10.

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135 out of 153 people found the following review useful:

A Beautiful Tragedy

10/10
Author: josh88-1 (josh88@houston.rr.com) from Houston, Texas (US)
14 December 2004

In a tragedy that only the likes of Sophocles or Shakespeare could recreate, the film House of Sand and Fog proves that some dreams really can't be shared. The American dream is shattered for Colonel Behrani and Kathy Nicolo in this movie of devastating beauty. It is a film about the relentless struggle between an Iranian man and a post-alcoholic over a small house near a Californian beach. When Kathy loses her house due to county error, Behrani buys it for the sake of money and self-pride. Their worlds clash when they realize there is no perfect solution to this mistake, ending with a shockingly tragic twist. The acting put forth in this film was nothing less of amazing. Ben Kinglsey, as always, played his role as if he was really in it, really showing us his point of view and displaying his need for the house. Jennifer Connely played her role beautifully as well, showing the inward spiral she was facing and how her depression finally took her over. The story was nearly flawless with a few money and law errors. However, the tragic themes of the film ring through nonetheless. With a little less than a superior performance from Ron Eldard, the film still had wonderful acting and brilliant film technique. Based on the best-selling novel by Andre Dubus III, director Vadim Perelman does an incredible job of staying true to the novel, and using a few Russian film techniques to give a sense of emotion. This type of film truly will tug at your heart and bring tears, yet will give a sense of appreciation for the human life.

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113 out of 137 people found the following review useful:

A desperate masterpiece

10/10
Author: Menelaos
4 January 2005

This film is based on Andre Dubus III'S acclaimed novel "House of Sand and Fog". Dubus created a story of immense power about cultures and the gap between them, about human pain, about hope and ultimately about humanity and sometimes its tragic loss. Colonel Behrani (Sir Ben Kingsley) and his family, buy a house on the fictional area Pacific County, intending to ameliorate their lifestyle, as they have been banished from their home country, Iran. However, the previous owner of the house, a depressed young woman and recovering alcoholic, Kathy Lazaro (Jennifer Connelly), turns up and reclaims her property, which was taken from her because of a bureaucratic error. And when Kathy's boyfriend, Officer Lester Burdon (very effectively performed by Ron Eldard), a racist obsessed with the concept of justice decides to help her, all hell breaks loose. I cannot speak of the plot any further without spoiling it, so I will stop here. How can one tell a story and be more than a mere narrator? How can a book be adapted to film, without merely repeating what the book itself says? Not only does newcomer director Vadim Perelman answer this question, he gives us one of the best films of the past decade. Perelman doesn't waste a single detail. Everything is brought together to create an astonishing emotional impact. Like great directors such as Tarkovsky have done, Perelman approaches his every character and pierces through her/his soul. Every scene takes you deeper and deeper into the soul of the characters, without ever being slow moving or over descriptive. As for the performances, what can I say? Rarely if ever has a single performance moved me as much as Kingsley's. This gigantic actor delivers one of his best performances to date, he has immaculate control over every single aspect of his character, physically and emotionally. Connelly, one of the most talented actresses working today, is also breathtaking, creating a performance that is a quiet outburst of pain and regret. Shoreh Aghdashloo, portraying the most tragic character of the film (at least this is my view of her character), is heartbreaking. This is acting in its supreme form, I really don't think it gets better. She truly deserved an Oscar for this. Young Jonathan Ahdout is also excellent, we will definitely be seeing more of him in the future. However, I must warn you: If you are going to see this movie, prepare for an emotional breakdown. It is really one of the most devastating films of the past years and if you'd rather see a pleasant film, this isn't for you.

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69 out of 80 people found the following review useful:

Superb movie, well directed and a stunning performance from Connelly. Shakespearean Tragedy in a modern setting.

9/10
Author: Richard Brunton from Edinburgh, Scotland
21 October 2005

Movie It's a great movie, without a doubt, a strong and intelligent offering with some of the strongest and most heartfelt performances I've seen for a long time. Jennifer Connelly is stunning, and I don't just mean in looks, her acting is amazing and is picked up on the audio commentary again and again. One scene early on requires her to shed a single tear while talking quite normally on the phone, as if on queue it drops. You can hardly believe someone could give such a heart wrenchingly emotional and confused performance as this and manage to retain a normal life, watching her you believe that she is in a downward spiral of depression and self destruction. A totally believable and emotionally charged performance.

Ben Kingsley also gives a great performance, although not so outwardly recognisable in emotion, it's only really until you watch the audio commentary and listen to the praise given by the Director and author that you realise how subtle and exacting his performance is. His character is defined by strength, beliefs and pride, and Kingsley gives an excellent performance, Shakespearean in stature.

The film itself is emotionally draining, and you feel you're being taken on that roller-coaster drop along with Connelly's character, but don't for a second think that you shouldn't see it for those reasons, it's a journey that is superbly rewarding as a movie and an education in the miscommunication of people. Particularly people of different cultures.

As the movie progresses and the events step further and further down towards their tragic conclusion, the characters become more and more complex. Starting as simple, pigeon holed characters that you've seen before, they soon become more real and pull you into the movie, wrapping you up in them. They become utterly engaging and you totally disengage from life around you.

There's a strong supporting cast, although the performance from Jonathan Ahdout is not too convincing, those around them are, I think a particular mention is required to Shohreh Aghdashloo who provides an emotional balance for the coldness of Kingsley's character and an emotional mirror to the devastation of Connelly's character.

Two things are mentioned in the audio commentary that I didn't really pick up on until then, but retrospectively you realise these contribute greatly to making it a great movie. The first is the subtlety, there are many images and scenes without words that you don't truly appreciate until a second viewing, or a very careful first one. The second is the way that Kinglsey praises the Director's style of never telling the audience what did happen and is going to happen, events just occur. For instance the breaking of the marriage of Ron Eldard, where there is no explanation given, it's just happened. This has the effect of treating the audience with respect and realising that they have intelligence, and it also makes for an excellent way of keeping the pace of the movie.

Picture Presented: The picture is crisp and sharp, a superb use of lighting in the movie moving from the bright opening beginning of the story it darkens through time to the bleak and dismal closing scenes. The light is always warm and inviting, with any artificial light looking sterile, and the darker shots bleak and dismal. Some of the time lapse shots between scenes are beautiful.

Audio Presented: The audio is very good, although there is nothing to really take advantage of a surrounding speaker system, the sound is kept sparse and atmospheric, with an extremely subtle and limited soundtrack it gives everything to the movie and never distracts.

Extras Presented: What strikes you about this DVD are the beautiful animated menus, black and white shots from through the movie fill the background giving you the feeling of mystery and indeed sadness.

The Deleted Scenes are good, although alongside they have a dull and very annoying commentary. Rather than talking about the scene and giving some insights you are treated to noises of laughter, snorting and approval interspersed with over the top bouts of backslapping. Awful, before it's over you're dreading the onset of the audio commentary. The Behind the Scenes is good, but nothing new.

The Photo Gallery is very well done as it's not a gallery at all, it's a featurette that is filled with stills between interviews with people talking about actors, characters and key scenes. It's a very engaging way of creating a gallery. Another huge extra is the Shohreh Aghdashloo Audition, it's truly amazing to see this actress work through some very emotionally harrowing scenes one after the other right in front of your eyes, it gives you a superb grounding in what it really means to be an actor and auditioning. With this performance it's hardly surprising she gained the role.

Finally there is the Audio Commentary, and after the pathetic commentary on the deleted scenes I was really concerned. However the backslapping was slightly subdued for the full commentary, still very evident but much more bearable due to the amount of information that was given about the story, filming and the actors themselves. Combining Kingsley, Vadim Perelman and Andre Dubus III, you are treated to a really wide view from story conception through development, filming, acting and ultimately post production. I really enjoyed this insightful commentary, although bordering on the crawling at parts, it gave you a lot more about the movie and the story. It also provides an interesting look at the actors and their methods.

Overall The movie is superb and firmly fixes itself in the realms of classic tragedy. The acting from both leads is stunning, particularly Connelly, and the supporting cast provide strong backing. Powerful, emotional and at times quite harrowing, this is superb entertainment and a movie deserving far more recognition than it did, again particularly for Connelly.

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73 out of 93 people found the following review useful:

Excellent performances

10/10
Author: ssmeow from Pittsburgh
5 December 2004

Excellent performances, strong story, riveting. This story would not work without Ben Kingsley. His characterization delivers complexity, strength and intelligence. This movie was well cast and certainly finds a way to touch a cord in everyone. The director did show a light touch where necessary but put the actors through their paces as the story unfolds. This is not light entertainment. It's about the human condition and how people find a way to cope with adversity..........or not. Better have a box of tissues because you will need it by the end of the movie. They want one more line out of me and it's proving tough. Hope this does it. I recommend this movie to anyone. The performances alone are worth it. Guarantee you that you will not walk away from this one without an opinion.

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93 out of 134 people found the following review useful:

can't believe it didn't win academy awards

9/10
Author: lipwer from United States
1 January 2005

This is a really good movie. The cast is wonderful. If this is a first movie I will line up for any future films from the director. Roger Deakons is superb as the DP. I only wonder how a first time director got him. The story is gripping and the cinematography is haunting. As I watched it I just kept wondering how it would end. I never saw the real ending coming. I loved all the characters and even wanted more. The juxtaposition of the two story lines was fascinating. I wanted to hate someone but couldn't. The only bad guy is the cop. Everyone makes mistakes but his just seem so brutal. I had never noticed Jennifer Connelly before but I will make an effort to see any films with her in the future. As I watched this film I asked if I should make some changes in my own life so that this sort of thing doesn't happen to me. If you read the synopsis you will miss what this movie is really about. Watch it. You will be better for it.

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83 out of 117 people found the following review useful:

Best Movie of the Year

10/10
Author: helenlew from San Francisco, California
25 December 2004

This movie is undoubtedly the best of many good ones in the past years. After watching it last night, it is still with me - the glorious scenery, the entire cast and of course, most of all Ben Kingsley. Ben Kingsley should have gotten the Academy Award for his performance. Not once did I find the actor behind the character he was playing. I have seen him in many movies, each of which he epitomizes and becomes a chameleon changing colors becoming whatever his roll calls for. The cinematography was beyond beautiful; indescribably glorious, breathtakingly exquisite in both the colors and movement. The story was believable, tragic yet it hit the right notes of a man who is determined to regain at least some of the stature he had left behind. I truly loved the line which was spoken in the Iranian tongue and then translated "If a wounded bird flies into your house, you must take in in and heal it." The words might not be exactly correct but the meaning is obvious and quite eloquent.

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85 out of 122 people found the following review useful:

Tremendous

10/10
Author: mcborowski from Houston, Texas
15 October 2004

Amazing how seemingly small and insignificant events can quickly snowball to dramatically change the lives of those involved.

This movie had my rapt attention from beginning to end and is one of the best films I've ever seen. No, it is not an uplifting tale that ties everything up in a nice little bow at the end for the audience but that is one of it's greatest assets.

Life isn't always ice cream and teddy bears. Sometimes the cowboy doesn't ride off into the sunset and that's what makes this so compelling--the realism.

It's not often that I find myself talking to the movie. Pleading with the characters and wanting to jump into the movie to resolve a conflict.

If you don't have to reach for the Kleenex, test your carotid for a pulse.

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