House of Sand and Fog
- compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2003 1 Jan
Sir Ben Kingsley (
The story does not sound like the stuff of an arresting film. But Perelman captures a nerve-wracking, heartbreaking story in one of the year's most accomplished dramas.
Kingsley plays Massoud Amir Behrani, a former associate of the Shah of Iran who moves his family to the United States to rebuild their lives. Unaccustomed to living without great wealth, Behrani works several jobs and watches the classified ads, trying to find a house that will replace the lavish estate they inhabited in their homeland. When he discovers that he can get a bargain by buying property that has been seized by the government, he becomes the owner of a house that has great sentimental value for the woman from whom it was taken.
That woman (Connelly) is Kathy Lazaro, a recovering drug addict and recent divorcee. Arguing that the government had no right to take her house, Lazaro hires a lawyer (Frances Fisher) and fights for her father's homestead. As she slowly realizes that the situation is irresolvable, she descends into self-destructive behavior, including an affair that compromises the marriage of a foolish, irresponsible policeman (Ron Eldard.)
Mainstream critics are praising the film as one of the year's best. But some religious press critics have strong objections.
Movieguide's critic says, "The two major characters who clash in the movie do not become sympathetic until the very end, which makes the predictable ending all the more disappointing. [The film] seems to be a throwback to politically liberal movies from the 1960s where the repressive, 'racist' System with a capital 'S' inexorably leads to human tragedy.
Michael Medved (Crosswalk) says, "The lurid plot and pokey pace combine to run the entire effort off the rails for a conclusion that registers as creepy rather than compelling. No amount of passion and conviction from the cast can carry the heavy-breathing hysteria of the story line."
I believe that these critics are misinterpreting a powerful tale about the wages of sin. Behrani, Lazaro, and the misguided policeman all want something desirable, but each of them is willing to take unethical shortcuts to get it. They want what they want, and they want it
It also features Oscar-worthy performances by Sir Ben Kingsley and Shohreh Aghdashloo.
Anne Navarro (Catholic News Service) says, "Perelman's tragic tale reveals with searing emotion the consequences actions—both good and bad—can have on frail human beings. It is moving and poignant, with a brilliant performance by Ben Kingsley. While the film's crushing sadness overwhelms the viewer, leaving one drained, the film's flaws cannot be dismissed."from Film Forum, 01/22/04
Parks raves that House of Sand and Fog "has a rigor rare in Hollywood dramas. The movie is resolute in its portrayal, never softening the story or its characters for easy sentiment. This leads to a fantastic conclusion, where a simple declaration feels like a hard-won victory."
from Film Forum, 02/26/04
Ron Reed (The Matthews House Project) calls
He comments on the nightmare that develops as the characters make desperate, misguided choices that set in motion devastating consequences. "It is frightening to think our fates are in the hands of ineluctable natural forces or vengeful gods. When we consider that perhaps our own choices, and the choices of the people around us, are just as inevitably shaped by the darknesses in our hearts, that fear is compounded into real horror—the threat is so close at hand, so undeniable. Some actions will bring destruction, darkness will flow out of us—from our pride and prevarications, from our weakness and addictions, from our disrespect and disregard, from our certainty that we know how things should be and our blind willingness to do all we can to make them so, whatever the cost."