House of Sand and Fog boasts superlative performances, but what could've been a fascinating character study is brought down by the manipulative melodrama of the script.
Based on a novel by Andre Dubus III (son and namesake of the man whose writing was basis for the even more insulting In the Bedroom), House of Sand and Fog was co-written and directed by Vadim Perelman, who keeps up the grating clouds-fog-and-birds motif throughout the film's two-hour running time.
The script, for which the director shares credit with Shawn Lawrence Otto, sets up an interesting dichotomy between two feuding parties, but ultimately loses its way by repeatedly forcing its characters into extreme acts that don't come across as believable.
Jennifer Connelly, who won an Oscar for being the best thing about the otherwise vile A Beautiful Mind, stars as Kathy, a young woman who is evicted from the house she inherited from her father, mostly due to her unexplained refusal to open her own mail. After an auction, the house falls into the possession of Behrani (Ben Kingsley), a former colonel in the Shah's air force in Iran-turned blue-collar worker who seeks to make a killing in the real estate market in order to regain his family's lost pride. Later, Ron Eldard (formerly of "ER") enters the plot as a nasty cop, throwing a wrench into that whole "moral equivalence" idea.
The major problem with the film is that it tries way too hard to be evenhanded - in the ongoing struggle between Connelly and Kinsley. Back and forth the plot goes, as we're first made to feel sorry for one of the combatants, then something else happens to switch our allegiance to the other - just when we're about to sympathize more with Behrani, the script is sure to re-introduce his old-world misogyny, in relation to his wife (the very good, Oscar-nominated Shohreh Aghdashloo). But then, like clockwork, something happens on the Kathy side to nudge the ledger back to the middle.
The script has each of them do something VERY BAD or VERY GOOD whenever it appears the scales are tipping too far in one particular direction. Then we're asked to switch our allegiances all over again minutes later - and this process is hindered, not helped, by a very intrusive James Horner score.
House of Sand and Fog is not a horrible movie, and does manage to achieve profundity on a couple of occasions, most notably the almost unbelievably sad ending. And while the plot makes the film sound like a campy thriller, it never falls into that trap. But the manipulation inherent in the script is enough to keep me from recommending the film.