What is worse than sitting through an outright bad film, like Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle or The Cat In The Hat? Sitting through a self-important drama with only one thing on its mind – to win a bunch of awards at the end of the year. Such a film is the new drama House of Sand and Fog.
Based on the bestseller by Andre Dubus III, House of Sand and Fog is the tale of two people – one is Massoud Amir Behrani (Ben Kingsley), a former member of the Shah of Iran’s elite inner circle, who is currently living a lie tofulfil a dream. He has brought his family to America to build a new life and despite a pretence of continued affluence, and is barely making ends meet until he sees his opportunity in the auction of a house being sold for back taxes.
But what appeared to be an opportunity turns into a terrible mistake. Through a bureaucratic snafu, the house had been improperly seized from its rightful owner, Kathy Lazaro (Jennifer Connelly), the story’s other main character. The loss of her home tears away Kathy’s last hope of a stable life – a life that had been nearly destroyed by addiction – and, with the help of an unethical local sheriff (Ron Eldard) that begins an extramarital affair with Kathy, she decides to fight to recover her home.
I have nothing against serious-minded dramas that have something to say nor do I mind a movie where the characters come off as less than sympathetic. Were the battle between Kathy and Massoud for the house, two interesting but flawed individuals, interpreted by writer/director Vadim Perelman as an apt metaphor of the ongoing struggles between American and Middle Eastern people, we could have had something timely and topical here.
Instead, Perelman opts for the soap opera route, emotionally raping the viewer with a ridiculous story of an irresponsible woman whose unstable life is turned upside down again (all done by men, no less), a situation that could have been avoided if she had opened her mail to begin with. The writer/director certainly knows how to lay on the story’s gloom and doom as thick as the fog that encapsulates the titular house, but he doesn’t know how to avoid the myriad clichs that pepper the screenplay.
As Kathy and Massoud go through personal dramas A to Z, we sit in the theatre not caring much, with one or two exceptions, what happens to either person during their journeys or in the end. This isn’t helped by the fact that we know it is going to end badly for one of them, thanks to that dreaded plot device of starting the film with its last scene. It sounds cold, but I am telling it like it is, folks – I breathed a sigh of relief when the credits began to roll at the end for this Lifetime Television Network reject.
At this point, you may be asking if there is anything that I did like about the film. Well, yes. In fact, there are three things – the performances by Kingsley, Connelly and Iranian actress Shohreh Aghdashloo, who plays Massoud’s wife. Even though the material is weak and the directing heavy handed, the performances by these three are excellent.
Connelly shows that her award-winning performance in A Beautiful Mind was no fluke, Aghdashloo makes an impressive American film debut and Kingsley, well, the man could make a reading of a telephone book compelling. It is a testament to their performances, especially Kingsley’s during a powerful moment toward the end, that we show even the slightest bit of caring for these characters at all.
House of Sand and Fog isn’t the worst film you can sit through. It may, however, be the most infuriating. There is nothing worse in a motion picture than lost potential and that is certainly the case with this film. This is one House you may wish to skip visiting this holiday season.