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Brilliant, but Excruciatingly Tragic
eht5y10 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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A Beautiful Tragedy
josh88-114 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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Incredible Comment On Cultural Gap In America
josephinerenae325 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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An unfailingly beautiful piece of work
breakneck30 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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Superb movie, well directed and a stunning performance from Connelly. Shakespearean Tragedy in a modern setting.
Rich B21 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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A desperate masterpiece
Menelaos4 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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Excellent performances
ssmeow5 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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Best Movie of the Year
helenlew25 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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can't believe it didn't win academy awards
lipwer1 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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mcborowski15 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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An exercise in frustration. 5/10 *SPOILER ALERT*
jpaul342 July 2004
Warning: Spoilers
First, the positives: Connelly and Kingsley give excellent performances. The film is well shot and well directed. The glaring weakness is the story (fault either to the writer of the novel or to the screenwriter), which relies on very questionable plot points and reasonably bright people making dumb decision after dumb decision. First, Kathy loses her house due to her own stupidity – she chooses not to open mail from the county after she clears up a 'business tax' error. Neglecting her mail leads to her eviction and subsequent auction of the house. Behrani steps in, somehow buys the 174K house for 45K and stands to make a profit for his family, redeeming himself for past failures. Apparently the county keeps the entire 45K when it turns out that Kathy only owes $500 in business tax. The county admits their mistake, but keeps all the money from the sale of the house. (???) Please.

Behrani understandably refuses to sell the house back to the county and tells Kathy that she should sue the county. Kathy refuses to go this route, instead letting her newfound deputy boyfriend Lester (who is married, by the way) go over to the house and attempt to threaten Behrani into selling. Behrani refuses. Lester has to go deal with his angry wife and Kathy assumes that he is gone for good. She has the bright idea to kill herself at the house, but fails twice to do so. Behrani takes her in (instead of just calling an ambulance) and Lester shows up and takes the family hostage. Behrani offers to sell the house back to the county, give the refunded 45K to Kathy and Lester. In exchange, they will put the house back in Behrani's name. Lester agrees and goes with Behrani to the county office to do so. For some contrived reason, Behrani's son, Esmail, goes with them. The three head towards the office, but Esmail decides to steal the gun from Lester and point it at him. Two policemen come up (of course) and tell him to drop the gun. I know even Esmail has seen enough American TV to know better than to swing the gun and point it at the policemen, but he does so anyway and is subsequently shot. He dies and Lester is sent to jail for threatening Behrani. With his son dead, Behrani decides to deal with his grief by poisoning his wife and suffocating himself. The moron that started the whole thing (Kathy) shows up at the house to find the couple dead. She cries and the movie is over. I'm all for non-Hollywood endings but this film was brutal. 5/10 for strong performances and good cinematography.
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A Very Annoying Movie
ilikeimdb17 April 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Annoying and frustrating. The plot and characters are beyond redemption and believability, except for the Colonel's wife. We're supposed to believe that a self-centered simpleton dolt / manic depressive drop-dead gorgeous California-laid-back slacker beauty is simply too lazy and feels too princess-like to bother opening her mail such that she loses her house, but then is all entitlement gusto about getting it back. Sure...that makes a lot of sense. Then there's the completely ridiculous character of her cop-savior-lover who, despite his cop discipline and the clear irresponsibility of her character, falls for her hard (and, frankly, we can't blame him since Jennifer Connelly is a total fox)...but this makes no sense whatsoever based on his background...and his devotion to her is so much so that he starts clearly violating the law in a fashion that doesn't really benefit him except to cement him to his new lover's madness. Yeah, right. Then there's Ben Kingsley's Behrani who is at least somewhat internally consistent, except he's as absurdly inflexible as the other characters again in a way that makes no worldly sense. This isn't supposed to be a science fiction flick! Overall, I found this flick to be annoying, frustrating and not entertaining.
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Yes, it's about a conflict over a house. No, the house is not possessed.
deadclowncollege20 May 2005
There's a sadness to House of Sand and Fog made doubly so by characters that are neither good nor evil. They can do hateful things just as easily as they can noble, and in that aspect they are all human. House of Sand and Fog is a magnificent effort, I thought. It works as a reminder that there is good and bad in all of us, and breaks your heart in the process.

Behrani (Sir Ben Kingsley) has just bought a house on auction for him and his family (wife Nadi played by Shohreh Aghdashloo and son Ismail played by Jonathan Ahdout). It is his intent to live there for a few months until he can sell it for a higher price and find a better home for his family. The only problem is that the house was taken from its previous owner Kathy (Jennifer Connelly) due to a bureaucratic error. Behrani refuses to give up the house and suspects Kathy of trying to cheat him out of what he sees as rightfully his. Kathy, on the other hand, is left to wander, even resorting to sleeping in her car and getting dressed in (euggh) public restrooms. Both desperately need the house at the expense of the other's grievances.

If anyone is to blame for what is to happen, it is Officer Lester Burdon (Ron Eldard). He is assigned to the task of helping Kathy move out of the house. He is affected by her story and acts a shoulder to cry on. The two soon become romantically involved. Unfortunately, Lester has a very poor sense of justice, which leads to him visiting Behrani and bullies him with threats with deportation. This visit helps to ignite an already unsteady dispute between Kathy and Behrani.

What happens next is something so unexpected, moving, and most surprising of all, fitting, it reminds me of the simple power that film can have. The climax has been complained as a misstep about in an otherwise generally critically praised film. And yes, while I agree what happens is senseless, I think that that was the point the director was trying to get across. You have to realize that for Behrani and his family, this house really IS all they have. Their financial woes are so troubling that Behrani changes into a suit on his way home from his job as a construction worker just so his son doesn't realize how thin the ice his family is on is.

And then the performances…wow. The very pretty Jennifer Connelly probably isn't accustomed to playing this "broken spirit" kind of role, but she's quite good. It makes you wonder why she doesn't get as much work as some other less dynamic Hollywood actresses. Secondly, who is Shohreh Aghdashloo and why have I not heard of her? She's fantastic and layered and motherly and holds her own against Ben Kingsley. Speaking of Mr. Kingsley, he's mesmerizing, bringing nobility to his character. Of course, this doesn't justify some of his actions, but one gets the sense he really would do anything for his family.

So I wholeheartedly recommend House of Sand and Fog with the disclaimer that it is a very sad film. Still, it's better than 90% of say, romantic comedies out right now. It's certainly not a fun experience, but I would say it's a worthwhile one.
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The fog of this film made it difficult to see the point.
cleverub428 May 2004
I you like happy endings then this film is not for you. The one thing nice about this film is that it is NOT generic and has a unique story to tell. Jennifer Connley and Ben Kingsley put in terrific performances (I think they could read a phone book and make it interesting) and the cinematography is rather nice. However, there story is a major downer and it seems like anything that can go wrong does. The writers must have decided there were too many uplifting stories in Hollywood so they will counter this situation with just their one movie. To say it was depressing is a big understatement. The sound track was interesting and the acting was good, but the story was not attractive and it was difficult to empathize with any of the characters. With all the Oscar nominations I thought this would be a much better movie.
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Overblown melodrama
bitterstranger19 May 2005
Warning: Spoilers
This is one of those films that you start watching hopefully, get through reluctantly, hoping for a saving moment and a proper character or plot development at some point, and then by the time it ends you find yourself cursing at the script writer and director (and actors!) for subjecting you to such a waste of time and hope. At least that's what it felt like for me.

It's not the dreary, depressive quality of it that bothered me; good tragic stories can be the most beautiful stories to tell, but tragedy does need some depth, some grounding in the emotional character of the protagonists, and this character has to come through powerfully to sustain the sadness, otherwise it's just overindulgence in emotions for its own sake, or just to show off how many crying, heartbroken expressions the actors can display.

Tragedy doesn't have to feel plausible, or to 'make sense' rationally; but it has to feel *real*: the film has to build the premises for it, in a honest manner. I felt cheated by this film, because it pretends to be a sophisticated tale but ends up being no more than a melodramatic tearjerker. In fact, because the tragic development feels so fake and so overblown, this was probably the first film I watched that I thought would have benefited from a happier ending, where I usually find myself having the opposite reaction. But the only thing worse than a soppy over the top happy ending is an equally soppy over the top miserable ending.

We do get bits of information in way of 'explanation' of each protagonist' behaviour and emotions, but they are just thrown there superficially, like data in a police report. There's just no nuance in letting them come to the fore.

Each new harrowing development seems to be there only to test our patience - it all escalates from a stupid bureaucratic error into outright war, with the former Iranian colonel turning into a careless speculator and wife abuser, the kind sheriff suddenly turning into a psycho kidnapper who threatens the newcomers with deportation, the woman who lost her husband and her house turning suicidal in the most theatrical way, and the teenage son of the colonel turning into an improvised (and unsuccessful) Bruce Willis, in a moment that is probably the most outrageous injection of pointless distress.

There are also individual elements that are particularly annoying, especially the flatness and rigidity of the character played by Ben Kingsley, more stereotype than really convincing (and his awfully caricatured accent and choice of phrases; no real Iranian would speak English like that, especially not when talking to his own family or much less praying...).

It was not just the presence of Jennifer Connelly that reminded me of Requiem for a Dream - I hated that film too for the same reason. Everything is relentlessly thrown into utter hopelessness and disaster, but without enough psychological and narrative conviction to sustain that kind of development.

It's such a pity, because with a finer, subtler treatment this could have indeed been a good film. You get a glimpse of that possibility at around the middle, before the roller-coaster of despair and destruction begins, so utterly unsubtle the paper thin structure of the film ends up buried under its weight.

A classic case of aiming too high.
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Title must refer to the brain of the director
MIKE-128011 March 2004
I went to see this film on the recommendation of several reviews and the word of a friend who had seen it. Did they see the same film that I saw....I dont think so! This film contrives to make us believe that if we pile one act of stupidity onto another in layers to thick to believe then the audience must have some sympathy with at least some of the characters. There is no room for sympathy with any of the characters. The performances of the actors are irrelevent as the storyline is so puerile no amount of acting could make it anything close to believable. Are there people out there that do these kind of things? I fear the answer may be yes but you wouldn't want to know them or even read about them let alone go and see a movie about them. Can I give it 0 out of 10?
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amaryllis178 July 2005
As a lawyer who once practiced real estate law, I found this movie utterly ridiculous. There were so many problems with the plot, I can't even remember them all. Suffice it to say that the law does not work this way in the real world.

Unfortunately, the totally illogical and unrealistic plot twists annoyed me so much that I couldn't take any of it seriously, so I never developed any feeling at all for the characters.

I didn't enjoy this movie, and wouldn't recommend it to anyone who knows anything whatsoever about real estate law, immigration, police work, or home improvement contractors.
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Am I such an iconoclast ?
achanko28 December 2004
Warning: Spoilers
Hate to resort to clichés, but this was one of the most powerful and compelling movies I've seen. I'm sorry for those who got nothing from it. To me, it was an obvious allegory of the situation in Israel, with two aggrieved people(s) fighting over the same "house". Lester, I believe, represented the U.S., seeming to care for the welfare of one party but actually concerned solely with his own interests. In the end, he is ineffective in his attempt to broker a compromise, resulting, quite literally, in the slaughter of the innocents - a tragic fiasco in which no one wins, and all (including Lester/U.S.) lose. One of the rare instances when I wished I could have spoken to the author directly after seeing the film.
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Wow this was bad
mattstoc5 January 2004
Warning: Spoilers
This was the worst movie I have seen in years. Other reviews talk about the portrayal of the shattered American dream and the raw emotion on the screen. I guess. What they miss is that this is a story populated with the dumbest characters on earth. The decisions made by the characters are so flawed that it is totally unbelievable. At every turn in the plot if you were to stop the movie and poll the audience on what would be the dumbest decision the character could make, that is what would be done. One example (CAUTION SPOILERS): Jennifer Connelly's character sets this whole thing in motion because she can't lose her house (Mom is coming on the 18th) so when everything is all worked up, after she tries to kill herself, she decides it would be ok to sell the house for $45k (Spoiler Over). It is agonizing. Wacking some on the toe with a hammer and filming it would show raw emotion, but it doesn't make a good movie because it is stupid.

Jennifer Connelly and Ben Kingsley do very good jobs acting, but it is totally wasted. If you want to see these actors then rent "A Beautiful Mind" and "Gandhi".

Wow this was bad.
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House of Sand and Fog... nothing short of brilliance
reneweddan29 September 2010
josephinerenae3's review is very informative without ruining the film, I completely agree.

I believe this film is raw, it shows different perspectives of lives in America: immigration, greed, sacrifice, and more.

This film is acted well through it all. Everyone does a great job, particularly Jennifer Connelly and Ben Kingsley (nothing short of what was expected from both).

This isn't a feel-good film, it's a film about society and human nature, with lessons to be learned.

Enjoy it for what it is, not for what you want it to be.
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House of Sand and Yawns
renmar28 December 2003
Ever watch one of those movies about stupid people who put themselves in stupid situations and suffer the consequences...this is one of those.

Too many times i was thinking "Why should i care? These people are annoying." It is also one of the most humorless films i have ever seen. "But it's a tragic drama!" you say. Even Macbeth has jokes.

Actors do their part, but a very uninteresting film going experience. Some has been written about Ben Kingsley's powerful performance, but it seems to direct itself towards an intensity level too high to compensate for an dull script. Great actor, but i don't think this role deserves to rob someone else of their nomination because "it's Ben Kingsley!"

If you're curious, wait to watch it on your TV.
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pandering implausible pulp
s03434286 January 2004
the film on the whole approaches utter hack work. the direction vacillates between sloppy and grotesque heavy-handedness; it's like being beaten about the head with a two-by-four--not much in the way of subtlety. kingsley's good; shohreh aghdashloo is splendid; connelly's adequate in an underwritten, unsympathetic and utterly preposterous role. the story's basic concept is so weak to begin with, it's hard to suspend disbelief as much as we're asked to.
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Watch a drama turn to a comedy!
CareyDaste12 December 2004
Ben Kingsley does a great job of acting in this film. Everyone else is just average. The writing is pitiful. While the ending is not comical, the writing is so bad that it becomes comical. The premise is just ridiculous, implausible and unbelievable. Throughout the film, you just want to scream to Kathy "Go get a job!" or "Try opening your mail!" The deputy, Lester, that attempts to come to the rescue of Kathy is probably the most unbelievable character. No one would go to the lengths he did and risk prison time for kidnapping, etc. to help out this poor dumb woman no matter how beautiful she is. I think this movie should be an embarrassment for the writers and for anyone who actually thought the story was good. It could have been good, but just wasn't.
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Pointless Movie
pedestal12317 May 2005
I simply do not get it. The movie was said to be dealing with two flawed people's emotional clash over their hopeless hopes. And yet all I see is a struggling immigrant family completely got screwed by a suicidal drug addict, Kathy, and her self-destructive psycho lover, Lester, in the name of cultural differences. Are we still living in the Wild West Era?

The worst part of the movie was such an unrealistic character portraying of the Deputy, Lester, being logical and reasonable even in his own family struggle, and yet turned into an obsessed psycho without any explanation. Talk about bad script!

Obviously, the author of the novel was trying to create a spiral conflict that the readers can sympathize with all three or at least two, Kathy and Colonel Behrani, but it never worked, not even close. It is rather a couple of losers, Kathy and Lester, committing such heinous crimes against an innocent family, and the nonsensical ending doesn't help, either. I wonder whether there are any sane people who would feel for the Confederate army over Lieutenant Dunbar or American Natives in the movie Dances with wolves.

Despite all the actors' brilliant performance and admirable directing job, this movie falls short, very short. I wish I could give "no star" rating.

I didn't read the novel, but the author said that the movie script was very loyal to the original story. It makes me puzzle how it made into the best seller lists in the first place. Did I just hear someone say "Oprah?"
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Stunning acting, a whiplash of a story, gritty and sublime...
secondtake12 July 2012
House of Sand and Fog (2003)

I finished the book by Andre Dubus and walked to the library and got a DVD of the movie and watched it the same night. So both are fresh, and except for the first few minutes and the ending, they are really in step, very closely matched. An Iranian expatriate family, now U.S. citizens near San Francisco, get mixed up in a real estate bungle centering around a house near the sea--the sand and the fog.

This is a grim tale, and the movie tips toward grimness more than the book, so by the end of watching you will be miserable. But such beautifully wrought misery! Ben Kingsley as the former colonel from Iran now struggling to keep his family afloat is simply amazing. His wife and son are strong and believable and they form a true picture of so many families, melding into the American landscape but still, within the four walls of their house, holding tight to their personal and cultural histories. This is important to the movie.

And it is so American, too, that they are misunderstood. The crisis of this house caught between this family and the previous owner, a young woman, Kathy, played with emotional intensity and coy seductiveness by Jennifer Connelly, heightens everyone's misconceptions. She has an illicit but idealized affair with a cop strung through this (something emphasized and more sexually explicit in the book, which is actually helpful because it gets into Kathy's head), and an increasingly desperate series of rash judgements by the cop makes for a horrifying crisis.

If there is something limiting about this movie it's hard to put your finger on. The cop, played by Ron Eldard, seems convincing on the surface but there's something not quite as right about him as an other lead. There is also a slight improbability to the plot, spiraling without anyone quite having the chance to check things even in some small way. Of course, that's the whole point, how little things build out of control, but there are some flaws--the lawyer, the relationship between the cop and the girl (better in the book), and even the excessive despair of the Iranian parents, which is played out with almost gruesome detail here (more than the book).

But what makes the movie terrific is the larger theme, about understanding and misunderstanding. It is even about recovering from substance abuse, and how people (the cop) need to be sensitive to those around them who have weaknesses. To some extent the movie needs some of the details of the book--by being just two hours long it strips the inner voices away too much, and unfortunately those are what make the story really work. Advice from someone who knows and likes both? Read the book. It's a fast read, well done if imperfect (but that's a different review). But if you don't do books any more, the movie is really good. Connelly and Kingsley themselves make it worthwhile, though they have very little screen time together.

Powerful stuff, even if sometimes oversimplified.
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