An adaptation dripping with melancholy vibes, based on the book by Andre Dubus. That would be House of Sand and Fog, y'all. This one had me from the trailer, and with Jennifer Connelly's just recovering from the abysmal Hulk, it was about time for her to get back to true drama. What could possibly go wrong?
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House of Sand and Fog was quite a bit different from what I was expecting. Judging by the trailer, I figured this was going to be the movie I was trying to write -- one about "privacy rape", or something. Then I started reading the reviews that all seemed to emphasize one thing. There ain't no good guy, there ain't no bad guy, there's only her and him and they just disagree. Woo ooh ooh, ohhhh ho.
Eight months ago, Kathy's husband flew the coop, leaving her all alone in a rather gigantic house which her late father bequeathed her. She and her family are not only physically distant, but emotionally as well. So they have no idea that her husband left, or that the big bad County is after her for neglecting to acknowledge some kind of tax statement she's been getting in the mail. But then, Kathy doesn't even know it herself, until her privacy (and her life as she knows it) shatters into a million pieces in the window of about three minutes.
Shortly after she and her belongings have been relegated to a storage shed in a blue nowhere, an ex-colonel from Iran, Behrani, comes along, having spotted an auction ad in the newspaper for that very same house. This is like the chance of a lifetime for him, as he has been working two jobs to support his family, they have shat six digits on apartment rent, and the guy is so stingy with his cash that he feels guilty for a spending decision as innocuous as a Snickers candy bar. But, responsibly, he jots it down in his record book, and we see that he barely has enough cash to snatch up that house.
Then, we discover that the County has made a miscalculation at Kathy's expense. But not before Behrani and the family have made themselves comfortable in their new "bungalow". So what happens now? Oh ho, a whole lot, lemme tell you. Actually, don't let me tell you. You know there is going to be a conflict over the house; what you don't know is that the conflict will escalate to such complicated and intense levels. House of Sand And Fog plays with your emotions, and it plays hard. Having offered a brief glimpse of the film's end as its first minute and a half or so (as overused of a technique as that is, I really like it), one is almost certain as to what is going to happen at a pivotal moment to cause that ending. Then it doesn't, and your whole outlook shifts like the San Andreas.
There are so many things that you don't know about people, what they are going through, and what causes them to make the decisions they do. Seeing something like this from both sides is an interesting journey, 'cause it helps you to understand the sheer pointlessness of conflict, and to grasp the danger of jumping to conclusions and approaching it all from only one side.
Ben Kingsley is spectacular. I went into the movie expecting to root for Kathy all the way, and ended up sympathizing more with Behrani in the early stages. Kingsley's face is an entire book just on its own. He scarcely had to move to express the far-off state of his mind, the dream of wanting so much more, and the devastation of losing (or potentially losing) something special. Perhaps for no other reason except to throw a monkey wrench into your judgment scale, his character also has violent tendencies.
Jennifer Connelly also injects a good deal of life (or the lack when appropriate) into her character. It takes some time to "warm up" to her, as when you first see her, you see the result of her having sown the seeds of apathy for a day (or 100) too long. She actually gets to smile a lot more than I thought she would. There are times she almost seems "too" comfortable, but when the fat lady sings, Jennifer's all over it. Finally, she reminded me why I like(d) Becky -- they're practically identical. *swoon*
Then there's Lester the cop. Early in the movie, he becomes involved with the whole spectacle between Kathy and the County, and soon he is involved with Kathy herself. This all starts out fine until you realize that the initial temptation to think of him as "Dewey" ends up being not all that unjustified. There isn't a whole lot wrong with the acting of Ron Eldard, but the character is either two-faced or severely misplaced. I can see guys making jackass decisions because of some pretty girl in American Pie, but here, it really upsets the somber mood and turns an entire scene into Johnny English meets Panic Room. Perhaps the fact that he starts out so likable and heads in the direction he does is merely another ploy on the movie's part to disturb and teach its audience that, as Behrani says, "Nothing is as it seems." To say that the character p@ssed you off is to say that the movie did its job.
House of Sand And Fog will make you squirm, listen attentively, and probably even cry. You may question your own ability to judge people, or even the worth of such an ability. And who in heckfire do you cheer for? Well that's a tough call, but it would be a good idea to check your pretensions at the door. Behrani is an American citizen, get over it. (Then again, if they had called the movie Casa del Arena y Niebla... well, never mind.) Kathy can't afford a motel room, but she can afford smokes. Why smoke? Because mental abuse does more long-term damage to your body than physical, how's that for a reason.
Despite any minor implausibilities (of which some are brought up on the Imdb.com boards), I don't know how it's humanly possible to look for them during the experience, maybe afterwards. I was hooked like Ben Stiller in the upper lip. House of Sand And Fog is strong enough for the head, but made for the heart.
The great thing about emotions is that we have an unlimited supply of them. So even if you invest your emotions and get nothing in return, you don't really lose anything. Basically what I'm saying is, don't get your hopes up for a super duper happy ending, if you know what I mean. Bring your sweetheart. Bring Kleenex. Bring Vicodin.
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Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 13 and Older