Saturday 26 February 2022

Movie Review: House Of Sand And Fog (2003)

A brooding drama, House Of Sand And Fog traces an increasingly obstinate conflict over house ownership, with both sides convinced of their rights.

In the San Francisco area, recovering alcoholic Kathy Nicolo (Jennifer Connolly) has been abandoned by her husband. The County now seizes her house for non-payment of back taxes, although she disputes the charge. Sheriff's Deputy Lester Burdon (Ron Eldard) is stuck in a loveless marriage and shows some sympathy towards Kathy.

Also in San Francisco, Massoud Behrani (Ben Kingsley), his wife Nadi (Shohreh Aghdashloo), and son Esmail (Jonathan Ahdout) are rebuilding their lives. Massoud was a colonel in Iran's army under the Shah, but fled his homeland after the revolution. Now he works two menial jobs to try and keep up appearances of wealth and prestige within the expatriate community.

Kathy's house is put up for auction, and Massoud seizes the opportunity to buy it at a low price with the intention of quickly flipping it for a profit. His family moves in, but Kathy seeks the advice of lawyer Connie Walsh (Frances Fisher), gets help from Lester, and starts manoeuvring to get her house back. Massoud is not easily intimidated, and is determined to hold on to his newly acquired property.

The Andre Dubus III novel comes to the screen dressed in a serious cloak of doom. House Of Sand And Fog is humourless, perhaps suitably so, in a depiction of a dispute spiralling towards ripples of pain. A level of beauty emerges from grim emotions, and director Vadim Perelman does not hold back on images of grey San Francisco fog and flashbacks to the sands of the Caspian Sea, where Massoud enjoyed his glory. James Horner's music score adds to the somber aesthetic.

Embedded within the screenplay by Shawn Lawrence Otto and Perelman is a narrative intent to create a judiciously symmetrical struggle, where both the Behranis and Kathy have a case, and both have been buffeted by society's disparagement. Massoud is an immigrant and always treated as such; Kathy is a recovering addict with an absentee husband who could not care enough to stick around. Both are convinced they deserve the house: Massoud purchased it fair and square; but Kathy only lost it due to a bureaucratic mix-up. Ben Kingsley and Jennifer Connolly plumb the depths of their characters, stone-faced as they demand respect but receive revilement.

But the intended emotional balance wobbles. Kathy fares worse within the story's structure and is quickly on the back foot. The opening scenes establish her as a slob on the doorstep of depression. She never mentions any intentions of supporting herself, instead wrecking Deputy Sheriff Burdon's marriage and manipulating him to do her dirty work. Massoud has his old fashioned foibles, but garners much better sympathy for his focused diligence on a plan to improve his family's fortunes.

The final act features moments of humanity and acts of kindness, undermined by contrivances and unhinged folly serving the script by steering towards obtuseness. Nothing if not consistent in tone, House Of Sand And Fog bleakly embraces the outcomes of intransigence.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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