(Originally posted on 1/10/04)
Vadim Perelman's adaptation of Andre Dubus' acclaimed novel House of Sand and Fog is, courtesy of ace cinematographer Roger Deakins, one beautiful film. Shot in subdued, natural hues that exhibit a clarity meant to contrast with the story's hazy moral center, the film concerns the battle over a beachside house between Kathy (Jennifer Connelly), a neglectful American who lost the residence because of unpaid back taxes, and Mr. Behrani (Ben Kingsley), an exiled Iranian who purchased it as an investment property. The film is partially successful in underplaying its political undertones -- the battle between Kathy and Behrani for the house is nothing less than a symbolic representation of the conflict between US natives and Middle Eastern immigrants for the deed to America -- and focusing on the ways in which disagreements can escalate into tragedy through misunderstandings, rash judgments, and prejudice. Kathy's irresponsibility sets the drama in motion, yet despite her initial negligence and increasingly violent actions (which are aided by her irrational, racist police officer boyfriend played by Ron Eldard), the government had no right to take her home. Similarly, despite Behrani's uncompromising coldness, he is legally entitled to the house. What results is a situation in which anger, selfishness, and a lack of compassion doom all those involved. Perelman would have been better off discarding some of his myriad shots of fog portentously engulfing the horizon, but Connelly's sterling performance and the affecting (if somewhat gimmicky) work by Kingsley largely overshadow the director's occasional slip-ups. Still, I wish that both the story's catalyst was less flimsy -- the plot hinges on a careless mistake that's hardly cause for the ensuing chaos -- and that the film avoided some of the somewhat superficial stereotypes on display (Americans are reckless, angry, and violent; Middle Easterners are obstinate, bound by duty, and domineering toward women) in favor of more nuanced characterizations of both cultures.