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4.4 out of 5 stars
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4.4 out of 5 stars
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Penn, Crowe, Murray, Hopkins and the rest that might think they deserved the Best Actor Oscar for the 2003 film year. Forget it. The most deserving of that honor, Ben Kingsley, is right here in THE HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG, a story of three lives that collide like a 3-way train wreck.
Kingsley is Massoud Amir Behrani, a former colonel in the service of the Iranian Shah. Forced to flee the country after the fall of the monarch, Behrani now works two jobs - convenience store clerk by night and road maintenance worker by day - to try and stem the slow drain of his savings being spent on the expensive lifestyle that his wife Nadi (Shohreh Aghdashloo) is used to. Perusing the paper, he sees an moneymaking opportunity in the public auction of a house confiscated by the county to pay back taxes. Massoud intends to buy the place on the cheap, fix it up, and sell it at the going market rate. Behrani is a proud man determined to regain his self-respect and the Good Life for his family. By maintaining a facade of affluence, he's already managed to marry his daughter off to another wealthy and respectable Iranian emigre. Now, he needs to put his son Esmail (Jonathan Ahdout) through college.
Unfortunately, the home is owned by Kathy Nicolo (Jennifer Connelly), who inherited it from her father eight months previous. Kathy is a recovering alcoholic, who failed to deal with the county bureaucracy when she had the chance, and now it's too late to stop the sale. She's evicted, has nowhere to go, no friends, no nearby family, no money, and is truly on the edge.
Into this volatile mix comes Lester Burdon (Ron Eldard), who's the police deputy assigned the uncomfortable task of tossing Nicolo into the street. Burdened by a marriage gone bad, Lester is seduced by Kathy's beauty and vulnerability, and he becomes her champion to the exclusion of common sense and professionalism. (With men, what else is new?)
Burdon aside, who's basically a fool guided by his gonads, the viewer will have to decide whom to back - Massoud or Kathy - because this intelligently scripted film doesn't favor one over the other even as the confrontation escalates beyond all bounds of rationality. There's no Hero or Villain. But for good fortune and good toilet training, you or I could be in either position.
In emotional intensity, even Sean Penn's performance in MYSTIC RIVER can't match Kingsley's here. There's a scene towards the end in a local hospital that'll knock your socks off, and for which alone Kingsley deserved Best Actor.
HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG was one of the very best films of 2003, and deserved an Oscar nomination for Best Picture.
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on 27 August 2004
Seldom does a film leave me emotionally drained yet yearning for more. I won't go into details about the plot as I feel these have been covered already by others.
I will however say that this is one of the most moving films of the last decade. There are many reasons for this but the core cast provide the solid base on which the film is built. Kingsley is note-perfect. Jennifer Connelly is also fantastic but the killer performance however comes from Shohreh Aghdashloo as Kinsley's wife. The Academy was mistaken in choosing Rene Zwellweger over her at this year's Oscars.
This is by no means a "Saturday-night-flick" but don't let that put you off. It is instead a master class in acting. Super photography and a fantastic score all add to the mix. Whatever you do this year, watch this film.
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on 15 March 2006
This is one of the most beautiful films I have ever seen. The details in this film, the acting and the final twist just make this an absolutely awe inspiring movie. How you could not like this movie astounds me. One of those movies that makes you just shut up for a few hours afterwards. Watch it.
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on 30 April 2006
I feel sad for the person who didn't enjoy this magnificent, subtle film. It's worth watching for Kingsley's performance alone, a performance that is, I think, the best of his career, alongside his role in Pascali's Island. The remarkable thing is how convincing he is as a certain type of old-school Iranian. The story is not just about his and his wife's particular dilemma, but about exile and the fate of the immigrant (cf. the novel, The Kite Runner). The ending must be one of the finest in cinema. There are no thrills, little humour, or any of the usual drives for such a tale, yet it pulls the viewer along effortlessly right to the climax/anticlimax. A definnite must-watch.
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Amir Behrani (Ben Kingsley in an Oscar-nominated performance) is working two jobs, one as a road construction worker and the other as a clerk/manager in a convenience store. He is a meticulous man, a man of dignity and pride. He has a wife Nadi (Shohreh Aghdashloo) and a teenaged son. They immigrated to the US from Iran where he was a colonel in the air force. They had a house in the days of the Shan on the Caspian Sea that they have no longer.

One day Behrani sees an ad for a repossessed house up for auction. This is the house of the title. It is owned by Kathy Nicolo (Jennifer Connelly) and her brother. We see her asleep in the house, which has gone to some disrepair, dirty dishes in the sink, unopened mail on the living room floor. She is awakened by a phone call from her mother on the east coast. It's 6 a.m. Kathy seems hung over. Her mother is coming to visit in a couple of weeks. Kathy says her husband will be out of down. She says he is lying next to her now, asleep. However he isn't.

Kathy is in a bad way. She is a recovering alcoholic. We can imagine her husband left her because of her drinking. She is trying to quit smoking. And worse yet, there comes a banging on the door and she learns that the house is being taken from her for back taxes. Signs are plastered on the doors. A county sheriff Lester (Ron Eldard) is there to make her exit the premises.

We can see the clash of cultures coming: the proud, hard-working immigrant who is going to buy the house dirt cheap and then sell it for a profit, the careless and self-indulgent American who is going to go live in her car.

Sheriff Lester is the joker in the deck. He is bored with his wife, whom he married young after growing up with her. He immediately takes a fancy to Kathy, and we can see that he will be instrumental in trying to get the house back.

So this is the premise of the movie. They are some problems with this premise, but they are minor. Behrani buys the house for forty-some thousand dollars and puts it up for sale for an hundred and seventy-some thousand. These numbers are pathetically low for the time, the 1990s, and the location, the San Francisco Bay area. Kathy is left with nothing. However after the taxes are paid she should be getting what's left of the forty-thousand. The direction by Vidim Perelman in his debut glosses over this. Furthermore, Kathy should be suing the county since they are the ones who wrongfully assessed her for a business tax.

What makes this movie work is the fine storyline, adapted by Perelman from the novel by Andre Dubus III, and superior performances by Ben Kingsley, Shohreh Aghdashloo, and Jennifer Connelly. Kingsley becomes the Iranian colonel in the most convincing manner. His motivations are clear and believable. His character is rounded and at once sympathetic and a bit off-putting. He is sexist and macho but at the same time civilized, compassionate and even admirable. Connelly, in her stringy hair and cheap cut offs becomes an injured and lost bird that has flown into this house that is no longer hers, this house that symbolizes both the American dream and the dream of the immigrant. I have seen her in a couple of other movies, most notably in A Beautiful Mind (2001). She is striking to look at, and here she proves she is a very talented actress. Her ability to turn her character from one that we are disposed to dislike to one for whom we feel great sympathy is part of what make this a superior film.

Aghdashloo, whose work got her a nomination for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 2004, also gives a fine performance in a delicate role requiring understanding and compassion. It is perhaps fitting that she was born in Tehran and speaks Farsi. (Excellent casting overall, by the way.)

Also notable is the original score by James Horner, which also received an Oscar nomination.

This movie is not only a work of art, but is intriguingly plotted so that what develops and how it ends are not easily predicted. The ending for some may seem a bit stagy, but I believe that Kingsley sold it well, and considering his character, it is quite plausible.
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on 15 November 2010
What a powerful film; a film that confirms modern cinema has something authentic to offer. It is a story, as the director says, about the clash of two hopes: both right in their way, but set upon a tragic trajectory. The cast give faultless performances, with Ben Kingsley and Jennifer Connelly, in the lead roles, leading the way. The direction is intuitive: we learn, in the unusually good extras supplied on this DVD, that the director began by story-boarding the action, but then threw the drawings away and took a less premeditated approach. Story-boarding has become something of a cinema curse, because directors too often simply reproduce images they have seen in other films or contrive a pictorial effect that works against the action. It requires a truly creative cameraman to bring sequences to life in the more fluid approach, and this film is blessed with a great cameraman. The story tells of a young woman dispossessed of her house by the county, because of unpaid taxes, and her efforts to get the house back from a man - an Iranian immigrant - who bought it in good faith, as an investment, in order to rebuild his family's fortunes. It shows how, by small missteps, lives can be transformed. Connelly's character feels overwhelmed by life's disappointments and Kingsley's, an ex-colonel in the Shah's army, is utterly convinced of his power to see off life's disappointments by his wits and will. The man's wife, still struggling to adjust to life in America, and the girl's helper, a deputy sheriff who has a weakness for making up his own rules, provide nuanced variations on the film's themes. The story is so compelling because it both sympathises with and faults every character, without favouritism, and, although the audience can feel the growing menace of the situation, the filmmakers keep us in suspense as to who will pay, and how. 9.5/10
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on 8 September 2004
House of Sand and fog is one of the most moving films of recent times. Ben Kingsley and Shohreh Aghdashloo should surely have won the oscars for their brilliant portrayal of Colonel Massoud Amir Behrani and his wife Nadi exiled in America after the fall of the Iranian Shah. Colonel Behrani buys a home at auction at a knock down price in the hope of being able to make a profit and better his family's life. He is unaware that the house has been wrongly confiscated from Kathy Nicolo (Jennifer Connolly), a fragile recovering alcoholic who is determined to regain her home.
When Kathy becomes romantically involved with Lester, the policeman who originally helped evict her, things take a turn for the worse. In an effort to help her, Lester loses sight of his professionalism and the situation becomes increasingly ugly as the Behranis' are threatened and Kathy starts to lose a grip of her sanity.
The three main characters are all played with such skill and sensitivity that it is impossible to take sides or judge who is in the right. One can only feel deepest sympathy for all of them and fear for the outcome.
This is a very emotional film, certainly not mainstream but well worth watching. Just make sure you have tissues handy.
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on 27 January 2006
An emotional rollercoaster, brilliantly acted and very very different from the norm. I've recommended this to every sensible intelligent person I know!
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on 5 November 2015
An amazing movie with truly wonderful performances from the cast. The flipside of those wonderful performances is the emotional devastation you will feel when the movie is over. It will stay with you for far longer than the credit roll. Haunting.
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on 27 August 2013
Fantastic story telling and Ben Kingsley is just outstanding, really outstanding, in this story of getting on in America. The land of opportunity through sheer hard work, and the land where people expect to get what they want by virtue of an overblown sense of entitlement. When these clash the result is unexpected, yet fully expected. I found myself feeling quite angry as the film develops towards an inevitable awful dénouement.

Can be viewed as a tragedy and also a terrible commentary on American attitudes. But can be enjoyed (?) without getting too caught up in between the lines.

Not recommended for "a cosy night in with a DVD on the sofa" !! But recommended nevertheless.
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