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The House of Sand and Fog

Watching The House of Sand and Fog, I quickly became aware that there is no way to write a review that covers both minds I had towards the film.

So, here is the review for the serious viewer who wants to know if the movie is worth seeing.

The House of Sand and Fog is a layered film that combines superb acting by Jennifer Connelly and Ben Kingsley with a complex and intelligent script and compelling visual themes.

For the typical, cynical Fanboyplanet.com reader in me, I write the following review.

At one point in this film, Ben Kingsley says "Things are not what they seem." This proves to be the most important sentence in the entire film, as it disproves what I saw as the movie slowly came to full form. I saw it like this: A seriously depressed Kathy (Jennifer Connelly) is screwed by the county, who repossesses the house her father built, only to sell it to a family of immigrants from some country we bombed during the 1980s who are only using it to sell for a big profit.

Things are not what they seem, as the Behrani family, led by Colonel Massoud Amir Behrani, had to flee when the Shah got booted. They've been living above their means and have bought the house to try and save themselves.

This is a tough sell, as we spend so much time watching Connelly bemoan the loss of the one piece of stability she had left and naturally feel inclined to sympathize with the one who was screwed by the government. This is the central problem: until the opening of the third act, I was totally with Kathy. I completely wanted her to get her house back. When her Deputy boyfriend pays an illegal visit to threaten the Behrani family, I felt that he was the good guy riding in to save the day. We're not supposed to feel that, but it was inevitable.

The script plays us a lot, keeps changing the worse off character, making you want to change your allegiance, but Connelly's deep sadness is over-powering in a good way. The strength of the script is in the even-handed approach, but at the same time, it gives the audience too much credit.

Connelly is beautiful, and is shown somewhat naked a couple of times, but she proves her chops in this one. She was so perfectly cast here, as it combines the pathos of her role in Requiem for a Dream, and the woman trying to clutch what she can from A Beautiful Mind.

Ben Kingsley hit the mark with every line, playing the military dad with polish and sadness and confidence beyond almost every American actor. Shohreh Aghdashloo is exceptional in the role of Mrs. Behrani. She is frantic at times, but she is always trying to hold it all together and be the wife that she had been in Iran.

The biggest acting problem is the interaction between Kingsley and Connelly. Things get too intense, too tight on the screen. I liked them apart, but together, they just over-whelmed the story that had unfolded.

The cinematography was exceptional. Lots of fog, with a bunch beautiful shots of the Golden Gate and Half Moon Bay. The interior shots are, oddly, flawed, and it helps the film. They are never the slick shots that films like American Beauty have made so typical, but rough, oddly positioned, off-model. It helps to keep us feeling that they are fighting so hard over something that is not the piece of heaven that the battle suggests that it is. There was a ton of dripping: water, blood, tears, everything drips and it becomes a sign of impending weakness in the character that brings the dripping to our attention.

There was a troubling moment, about 2/3 of the way through where we see an obvious Super Nintendo poster and an old school 1988 Mac. Up until that moment, there was nothing to suggest the time frame, and by dating the film so late in the going, it drew me away from the action that had just started.

This was a good film, but at the same time, there are these nagging flaws that you can't help but drag out. The non-film geek you go with will love it, will cry and think it's the best movie they've seen in years. You'll be there, turning over these little issues and wondering if this movie was all it has been hyped as. It's close, but not quite there.


Chris Garcia

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