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House of Sand and Fog

In an awe-inspiring display of overacting, Ben Kingsley single-handedly carries the lofty intentions of House of Sand and Fog on his proud shoulders. Unfortunately, the story- based on the novel by Andre Dubus III - fails to create believable situations, empathetic characters or understandable motivations to make many people care about what happens and why. Despite the masterful cinematography - by Roger Deakins of A Beautiful Mind, Man Who Wasn't There and O Brother Where Art Thou? fame - this film is pulp fiction masquerading as art. To bad Oprah Winfrey's book club ever bestowed attention on the book; otherwise novice director Vadim Perelman, who wrote the screenplay, never would have spotted it one day when he was in an airport bookstore. House of Sand and Fog concerns a self-destructive alcoholic, Kathy (Jennifer Connelly), who loses possession of her home in Pacifica because of delinquent property taxes. Apparently she neglected her mail for weeks and never read the warnings sent to her. Meanwhile, an Iranian immigrant, Behrani (Kingsley), whose life savings are rapidly dwindling, snatches up the two-story house at public auction the next day - laughingly for $44,000 (in the late 1990s?) - and promptly moves his subservient family in to rebuild a semblance of stability and nobility he once enjoyed while living along the shore of the Caspian Sea. While Kathy enlists some toothless lawyers to get her home back, she befriends an unhinged cop, Lester (Ron Eldard), for no good reason except that she's lonely and can't see how much he'll screw up her already tenuous existence. Kathy unwisely takes matters into her own hands by first stalking Behrani and then stumbling, literally, into their lives and befriending the kindly wife, Nadi (Shohreh Aghdashloo). Meanwhile, Lester, who takes more interest in Kathy than his own wife and children, stupidly confronts Behrani with vague threats of immigration hassles to scare him into selling Kathy back her house. What begins as a bureaucratic mistake that could have been settled easily in court escalates melodramatically into needless rancor, heedless violence and death. House of Sand and Fog takes an interesting premise about culture-clash and dueling desires for domesticity and turns it into B-grade nonsense.