You know that House of Sand and Fog is a deep movie because of the fog. There is a ton of it, coating the screen from all sides. So much, in fact, you almost feel like searching for the guy running the fog machine to ask him to turn it down a notch. The stuff is pumped into every other scene, either to convey the notion that THIS IS A VERY IMPORTANT STORY or that you need to turn down your high beams. I can't figure out which.
But you can only cover up a thin story with so much fog. First-time director Vadim Perelman, working from a novel by Andres Dubus III (author of another trouble-at-home story, In the Bedroom), obviously feels compelled to capture much of the portentous quality of the text. Here he pits recovering alcoholic divorcee Cathy (Jennifer Connelly) against Iranian immigrant/retired military man Col. Behrani (Ben Kingsley). Connelly loses her family's house because of a tax screw-up. (This easily could have been fixed, as she's admonished by her attorney, if she'd just open her freakin' mail). Kingsley, seizing an opportunity for his family, buys the property for a bargain price at auction and plans to fix it up and sell it for a tidy profit. This is what we call The American Dream.
So we have two flawed but well-meaning characters squaring off over that which we tentatively call home, a definition of which is rarely explored on film. Bravo. But beyond that, and the moral ambiguity we often show in moments of crisis, there's not much else to this movie after the fog clears.
Connelly, as beautiful and graceful a young actress as there is in Hollywood, in this instance thinks that acting dazed and confused conveys more complicated emotions. And Kingsley, whose manic compressions have served him well in films like Schindler's List, looks little more like a pissed-off zombie. Ditto Ron Eldard as a good-intentioned but morally confused cop trying to help (and bed) Connelly. Only Shohreh Aghdashloo (who resembles a Persian Anne Bancroft) as Behrani's wife knows how to convey sheer frustration. Watch her.
Otherwise, who knows? Maybe House of Sand and Fog just needed more sand. -- Simmons