Directed by: Vadim Perelman
Written by:Vadim Perelman, Shawn Lawrence Otto
Starring: Jennifer Connelly, Ben Kingsley, Ron Eldard, Frances Fisher, Shohreh Aghdashloo
Released: February 12, 2004
Grade: A

House Of Sand And Fog is an unconventional film in which there are two leading characters pitted against other but we are not required to take sides.  It comes to us from the acclaimed book by Andre Dubus III which I read only a few months ago.  I can’t recall seeing a film so truthfully resemble the novel from which it was adapted.

His government turned on him and Colonel Massoud Amir Behrani (Kinglsey) had no choice but to leave Iran and flee with his family to the United States.  The Colonel is a proud man and only his wife Nadi (Aghdashloo) knows that he works two jobs – one as a Council worker and one as a petrol station attendant.   The family rents an expensive apartment but Behrani knows they can no longer afford this.  Their savings are all but gone.

Kathy Nicolo (Connelly) is a troubled woman trapped in a world of depression.  Her family lives on the other side of the country and they don’t yet know that Kathy’s husband walked out on her 8 months ago.  She lives alone in the house her late father left her, struggles to pay her bills with a small cleaning job, and attends AA meetings to help fight her battle against the bottle.

On a Friday morning, a representative of the County Tax Office and two police offiers arrive on her doorstep.  She is to be evicted for an unpaid business tax fine of $500.  Kathy hasn’t been opening her mail and knows nothing of this.  It makes no sense to her since she doesn’t even own a business.  Police Officer Lester Bernham (Eldard) tells Kathy her best option will be to fight the matter with the County and gives her the phone number of an affordable lawyer.

The very next day, the house is bought at auction by Behrani for the bargain price of $45,000.  He has it immediately valued and realises it is worth four times what he paid for it.  It’s the investment opportunity of a lifetime and the profit he will make from the sale will boost the family savings and create a better life for his wife and son.

Kathy learns from her lawyer, Connie Walsh (Fisher), that the County had no right to take the house.  Unfortunately, the subsequent sale to Colonel Behrani is valid and the only way to keep fighting will be through a costly legal proceeding which could take months.  This isn’t acceptable to Kathy who wants the house back now.  She can’t even afford to stay in a hotel and is now sleeping in her car.  Behrani is approached by Connie Walsh who asks that he return the house for the original house but he has no plans to do so.  As he tells her “it is a matter of necessity for me and my family.”  Two people who have never met and done nothing wrong now find themselves pitted against each other.

It’s a gripping story of how a simple mistake can cause a chain reaction of despair.  Emotions have clouded reality and Behrani and Kathy will not stop their quest until the house is rightfully theirs.  Others too will be drawn into their tangled web and the ending itself may come as somewhat of a surprise.  For Russian director Vadim Perelman, this couldn’t be a more ideal screenplay from which to make his directorial debut.  Not a single scene is wasted.

Ben Kingsley has found himself included amongst the best actor nominees at this year’s Oscars as has actress Shohreh Aghdashloo in the supporting category.  Both work brilliantly off each other in a relationship full of complications.  For the talented Jennifer Connolly, it’s yet another chance to shine in an already impressive resume.

It’s a bit gloomy at times but through this fog, there’s a very worthy story being told.