Due to the kind of luck that Sophocles wrote about in his Oedipus plays, Sweet and Beautiful Kathy's home is repossessed by the county because of a five hundred dollar Business Tax delinquency. Because Kathy has never owned a business to be taxed, much less one for her to put a house-lien against, the words Clerical and Error combine to form a veritable dragon of understatement. Due to the kind of luck that Sophocles wrote about in his Oedipus plays, noble and bold Behrani buys Kathy's house in a Legal Auction before she can prove the county's legendary cock-up, and he plans to fix it all up and sell it for an Oedipus Rex's Ransom!
What follows is Kathy's desperate attempt to regain her home because she is in the moral right, all the while Behrani and his family are trying to maintain their home because they are in the legal right. The home becomes the crux of the problems between these Hatfields and McCoys, but as simple as the subject may seem, the plot line is anything but simple!
There are no real good and bad guys here! While Behrani's family, represented by Shohreh Aghdashloo's Nadi and Jonathan Ahdout's Esmail (who both later practically reprise their roles in Season four of 24) could be considered victims of circumstance, it's easy to see why Behrani Senior is in the right. Still, he is victim to fits of rage and unfairness that makes him hard to identify with. On the other side of the same hand, it's obvious that the strikingly beautiful Kathy is in the right. It is her house and she never actually owed any such tax. Still, she and new racist, xenophobic boyfriend Lester (Ron Eldard) resort to some truly dastardly and disgusting methods of kicking clan Behrani out of the disputed residence.
This is what makes director Vadim Perelman's interpretation of Andre Dubus III's novel so entrancing. While he keeps throwing the layers of uncomfortable depression on like fixin's on a Claim Jumper Sandwich, he also keeps the viewer guessing and unstable because there are no pure archetypal men in white and black hats here. The only thing the viewer knows for sure is who they like less in any scene. This, coupled with Perelman's rich camera eye and the tasteful photography of Roger Deakins make this one a keeper for artistic merits alone.
However, the acting is wonderfully natural, and hardly even feels like acting. Of course Ben Kingsley is excellent... ever see a small indie film with few extras called Gandhi? Aghdashloo's oscar nominated performance as the good, yet confused Mrs. Behrani is a sight to see as is Eldard's steady and deluded portrayal that evokes a feeling of love-the-sinner-hate-the-sin. Of course for some sins, this takes an awful lot of love.
Speaking of which, Jennifer Connelly is the one to watch here and the role of Kathy is made purely her own both on and off screen. Connelly lobbied to remove some, she thought, gratuitous scenes of nudity that the novel called for, choosing to focus more on her character's mind and feelings. What nudity did make it to the screen is tasteful (sorry, guys). However, Jennifer maintains her streak of good work, silently acting with her sea blue eyes and displaying a tangible rainbow of emotion!
The only reason such a great movie isn't given my highest rating is that the final act does get a little sensational and skewed from the uncomfortable calm of the rest of the film. Yes, it's still well-acted, yes it's still well written, and yes... it could happen! Sill, I can't help thinking that this might have been a better movie without these square pegs in round holes. The ending... well, it's excellently handled and surpasses the convoluted denouement all the while being just as much of a sunshiny joy as every other brightly positive scene.
Yep, life sucks like a chest wound, and if nothing else, House of Sand and Fog hands over a big fat reason why your life isn't nearly as bad as you think it is... Hey, watch this... it could be worse! Four and One Half Stars out of Five for House of Sand and Fog, the most beautiful time you can have being sad. So, until Sylvia Plath's life story and complete works are brought to the big screen with Tim Burton as director, Robert Smith writing the score and a starring role for "Marvin the Paranoid Android", I'll see you in the next, much, much happier reel, Smiley!
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