Sunday, December 28, 2003

I stayed overnight in the House of Sand and Fog, and all I got was this lousy t-shirt!

Mistakes were made.
There are no simple answers in House of Sand and Fog. Every one of the characters is working from the best intentions. Each is horribly flawed. Every single decision they make is the wrong one.
The movie isn't a Greek tragedy. It's not that cut and dried. It's just a very human movie. Even when the actions of the characters defy logic, it's not because the plot just demands it. It's a mistake, a miscalculation on the character's part. The mistakes keep piling up and things just get really bad really fast.
Kathy Nicolo (Jennifer Connelly) is a recovering alcoholic. Her husband just left her. And the county comes and takes her house because of a $500 business tax she didn't even owe.
Colonel Behrani (Ben Kingsley) is a Persian immigrant with a wife who spends too much money and more menial jobs than you can count on the fingers of one hand. He buys Kathy's house at auction to improve his family's life.
As Billy, the bartender at the Arena Grand said, "It's Oscar season, so you know it ends badly." Oh, how right he is. You enter this movie with your eyes wide open. You know something tragic will happen. You're just not ready for how messy it gets.
I've not read the novel by Andre Dubus III. I don't know that I'd care to after the emotional battering I received at the hands of this movie. For the work of a first time director (Vadim Perelman), House of Sand and Fog shows remarkable confidence in its material and a deft hand in construction, aside from one mistake (we'll get to that later). Roger Deakins' cinematography is remarkable, as usual (he's the guy that does the Coen Brothers' movies).
Jennifer Connelly, is (of course) incredible. Nice to look at, too...but the woman has more talent than the entire von Trapp family. I've seen one female performance all year that could equal hers, and it was in a supporting role. Soooo, she might be doing another walk down the aisle in the Kodak Theater this year.
Ben Kingsley is a revelation. He's always an actor to watch, even when the material is sub par...but this time he gets to hit a massive Babe Ruth homer out of the park. He's the emotional center of the movie, and he shines.
And Ron Eldard...who isn't even in the damn trailers, is very good. He's been around, but never quite had his chance to show off his skillz. Hell, they even cut him out of Phone Booth (he was the original sniper). His deputy is lost in his life and sees Kathy as his way out. Eldard plays the inner conflict well...and when he realizes the mistakes he's made, he collapses in on himself. It's a small role, but a key one. Shohreh Aghdashloo and Jonathan Ahdout are both excellent as Behrani's wife and son.
My one complaint with the entire movie is starting the movie off with the very end moment, rather than let the film unfold from the beginning. Too many movies uses the conceit of making the entire fucking movie a flashback. Can't we start from the damn start? It's a minor bitch, but why give away the goddamn ending at the beginning of the movie?
It's not a perfect film, but it's a pretty damn good one. Just make sure you take plenty of tissues.

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