Oscar Is in the House
A heavyweight contestant looking for a major-category sweep, House of Sand and Fog enters the 2003 Oscar race as first-time director Vadim Perelman joins forces with co-writer Shawn Lawrence Otto to masterfully adapt the best selling novel by Andre Dubus III.
One common shortcoming of many first-time directors -- and veteran directors for that matter -- is an inability to successfully manage the talent without losing the handle on individual elements that tell the story. Success with one aspect more often than not leads to neglect of the other. With House of Sand and Fog, Perelman not only guides his stellar cast like a master helmsman but also unfolds Dubus's disturbingly sad story without overlooking the nuances that originally put the novel on Oprah's Book Club® list and ultimately on the New York Times Best-seller list.
This tragic tale unfolds from the viewpoints of two main adversaries, Masoud Amir Behrani (Ben Kingsley), and Kathy Nicolo (Jennifer Connelly). Masoud, now a U.S. citizen living in America, was a Colonel in the deposed Shah of Iran's inner circle. Kingsley captures Behrani's noble spirit -- a man of honor, but also desperate to maintain his former stature. Kathy is a recovering alcoholic, recently divorced and barely able to hold down a job. Connelly nails her performance, keenly displaying the self-destruction of a woman grasping for anything that might take things back to the way they were. Both Behrani and Kathy live troubled lives with plenty to hide and more to overcome.
Behrani, the father of two, just put most of his remaining money into a beachfront house so that he and his family might continue the dream of living and prospering in their newly adopted country. Problem is, the house of his desires was mistakenly put up for auction -- illegally seized by the County from Kathy for unpaid back taxes. Both want the house and neither seems willing to negotiate. To the Colonel, the house is a toehold on the American dream. To Kathy, it's a link to her more stable childhood. What begins as a seemingly innocent legal snafu eventually escalates into a full-blown, hardheaded battle of wills with catastrophic consequences.
As the story unfolds, we notice Perelman's unique style with the grip he maintains on his audience. From a brewing sense of dread and misery highlighted by James Horner's foreboding score, to the love and comfort given by Behrani's wife Naderah (Shohreh Aghdashloo), Perelman manipulates our emotions, tossing them about, never allowing us to feel comfortable.
Although he knocked Dubus's 400-page book down to a 90-page script, Perelman still managed to keep the book's rich symbolism intact. He nicely blends Behrani's Old-world Persian influence with the spoiled, overly gratified nature of today's Americans. House of Sand and Fog is a deeply disturbing movie about two seemingly typical Americans -- on the surface, not really that different from you and me -- who run into a set of seemingly typical circumstances. Placed in the same situation, I would only hope for a different outcome.
(Released by Dreamworks Pictures and rated "R" for violence, disturbing images, language and sexuality.)
Review also posted at www.franksreelreviews.com.