Movie Review
House of Sand and Fog
2003
Director: Vadim Perelman
Cast: Ben Kingsley, Jennifer Connelly
D+


i never walk out of movies, but I gave serious thought to doing so each time I glanced down at my watch during House of Sand and Fog. It's not merely awful; it's downright oppressive. In other words, it's this year's (or rather last year's—whatever) The Hours.

Jennifer Connelly and Ron Eldard play two of the most utterly loathsome characters in movie history (and probably literary history, too, though I can’t say for sure as I haven’t read Andre Dubus III’s source novel). The former's Kathy is an uneasy mix of Connelly's Requiem for a Dream character and Lily Bart from The House of Mirth, except that she's neither a junkie nor a gradual victim of social mores. She’s just cosmically fucked: Her husband left because she wanted kids and he didn't; she's erroneously evicted from her beloved house because she's too depressed to get out of bed and check her damn mail; next, she's kicked out of a fleabag motel because her credit card won't go through, only to live in her car; and, to top it off, she steps barefoot on a rusty nail! She’s an insufferable whiner, and, frankly put, her spoiled sense of entitlement made me want to puke.

Eldard's police deputy Lester is simply a psychopath, which neither Eldard nor director Vadim Perelman seem to realize. Instead, they play the deranged bastard for sympathy!

Ben Kingsley's Iranian Colonel Behrani, on the other hand, is merely an uptight jerk. Sure, he does a not-so-nice thing by buying up and then refusing to sell back Kathy’s repossessed house for a price near what he paid for it, but, hey, he was taking advantage of a lucrative opportunity. I can't say that I really blamed him. Perelman evidently does, though, and subsequently presents him as an evil, insensitive, wife-hitting prick right up until the jaw-droppingly ludicrous final act.

Nearly everything in this film feels contrived and phony. The actions and motives compelling the three primary characters are in no way grounded in anything resembling sanity—much less logic. They’re so underdeveloped that they’re not merely unlikeable, but impossible to even relate to on the most basic rational human level. Determinism is one thing, but these characters are inexorably doomed purely in order to satisfy Perelman’s appetite for bathos and histrionics. If Kathy, Lester, and Behrani had either normally functioning brains and/or hearts the way most people here in reality do, their fates could easily have been avoided. That this is so clear and obvious only makes the film that much more infuriating and difficult to sit through.

Oddly enough, House of Sand and Fog left me feeling much the same way that Mystic River, my pick for the year's best American film, did: completely wiped out. But Clint Eastwood's film is a full-blown tragedy, as thought-provocative as it is gut-wrenching. House of Sand and Fog is, instead, a vapid, offensively ridiculous melodrama made purely to win Oscars and make people feel like shit.


By: Josh Timmermann
Published on: 2004-01-28
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