House of Sand and Fog Reviews
There are no good or bad characters in House of Sand and Fog. Just a lot of flawed individuals who seem to unintentionally make matters worse at every turn. This isn't a feel-good movie, to say the least.
The story is about a conflict over a house that is very important to several different people. The woman that it originally belongs to is wrongfully evicted from it, and it ends up being sold to an exiled Iranian man who needs the house as part of a plan to provide for his family. An unimaginable amount of conflict and tragedy ends up resulting from this unfortunate situation.
I'm an avowed fan of these kinds of dour dramas. House of Sand and Fog has all the emotional power of a movie like Revolutionary Road or Little Children, without the heavy-handed preachiness of Crash. This movie isn't trying to teach you anything or tug on your heartstrings, it's just a well-told story about tragedy. Combine that with solid writing, a good score, and a great cast (lead by Jennifer Connelly and Ben Kingsley), and you have a movie that is a fine example of the drama genre.
I was left feeling drained and slightly depressed, but also very thoughtful about what I had just experienced. The sign of a great film in my book.
If you like predictable heartwarming films, look elsewhere.
This movie is an absolutely superb drama with a massive moral question and no clear answer, leaving it up to the viewer to decide. The atmosphere is sad and oppressive and the performances are haunted.
I'm not really asking for an especially unique drama here, but it feels like this film wants to be more than your garden-variety drama of this type, and if that's the case, then even on paper, this film is not off to a great start, as Shawn Lawrence Otto's and Vadim Perelman's script goes tainted with conventions that don't establish all that much predictability, but are still too familiar for you to not notice some under-inspiration in the originality department. Really, there was always going to be some kind of under-inspiration to this drama, as it is quite minimalist, offering only so much kick to conflict and even questionable characters, and ultimately crafting a sparse dramatic tale that still boasts much potential, betrayed by pacing problems. Even in atmosphere, momentum is too steady to hit all that hard, because even though this film is never dull, to my pleasant surprise, some hint of blandness stand within dry spells that, quite frankly, stiffens pacing, and therefore allowing you to meditate upon the perhaps unreasonable length of the film. At just a little under 130 minutes, this minimalist drama doesn't exactly have a minimalist length, and that's nice and all, seeing as how it's hard not to enjoy a drama that takes plenty of time to meditate upon its depths, much too often, the film finds itself meditating too much on its depths, dragging, if not meandering along fat around the edges until it becomes repetitious, then continuing to drag its feet until it becomes aimless. When I say that this film meanders, I man it, as there are only so much rises and falls in a drama this intense, and before you know it, tension is undercut within this drama whose emotional resonance is challenged enough by aforementioned natural shortcomings and familiarity, and that all too clearly wants to bite harder. Vadim Perelman, as a first-time filmmaker, puts a lot of ambition into this project, and I cannot blame him, as this is a promising project, just not as promising as he wants it too be and tries to make it through meditative tastefulness that gets to be too meditative for its own good, until you're left too detached to not notice other problems that drive this effort short of what it could be. Of course, the potential of this film is pretty hard to full obscure, and sure enough, as misguided as this drama kind of is in some places, when Perelman hits its mark, things get mighty compelling, or at least mighty appealing on an aesthetic level.
For a new filmmaker, Vadim Perelman was able to get some pretty good names in the film business for this project, even within the style department, as this film is lensed by the great Roger Deakins, whose cinematography is surprisingly kind of flat in a lot of places, but makes its highlights really count with that distinctly Roger Deakins taste in near-noirishly sparse lighting, whose well-defined, tasteful emphasis on the environment is both hauntingly beautiful by its own right and complimentary to the bleak depths of this drama, much like the great James Horner's Oscar-nominated score, which is subtly dynamic, with a thoughtful minimalism and ambience that entrances as both musically lovely and atmospherically effective. I wouldn't say that the artistic value of the film is quite as consistently remarkable as they say, but its remarkable moments are very much worth noting as worthy supplements to the effectiveness of this tasteful, perhaps overly meditative film, or rather, worthy, if somewhat improvable subject matter. As I've been saying, natural and storytelling minimalism drag out the drama and thin out its full sense of consequence, but note that I've also been going on and on about how there are some betrayals of potential that is very much present in concept, as this is still a very promising story concept, with very human drama, as well as noble thematic depth that deals with anything from xenophobia and flaws in the system for living, to self-destruction through pride and the dark depths that people will sink to for the sake of their own prosperity, brought to life by what Vadim Perelman does well as a first-time director. This isn't exactly some dull art film straight out of Cannes or something, but Perelman is pretty atmospheric with his approach to this film, and while such steadiness blands things up much too often, all-out dullness rarely, if ever ensues, as Perelman's atmosphere is often controlled enough for you to soak up the heart of this tense drama, generally to where you get some sense of intensity, and sometimes to where you catch a breath of emotional resonance, especially with the crushing ending. This gets to be a pretty harsh drama, and I wish Perelman was even more controlled with his storytelling, because with more realized storytelling and a more polished, less formulaic script, this could have perhaps been a strong film, and yet, when it's all said and done, Perelman's performance as director does a good bit of justice to a worthy story, which is perhaps most brought to life by the performances. There are strong talents throughout the film, with worthy supporting performances including convincing ones by Ron Eldard as a corrupt man searching for a better life in the midst of struggling lives, and Shohreh Aghdashloo as a loving matriarch who fears what the flaws of her husband and the American system could do to her and her family, but it's the main leads who truly carry this thing, with Ben Kingsley capturing the pride and anguish of an honorable family man struggling to retain the opportunities for happiness of his loved ones, while a trim-browed and, believe it or not, particularly beautiful Jennifer Connelly proves to be subtly powerful in her portrayal of a miserable, tainted and all around thoroughly flawed woman who initially looks for both a new happy life and the happiness she lost, and grows to just look for some kind of a way out. The performances are stronger than the film itself, and while good performances are certainly important in this character drama, they can't fully restore the potential of the final product, which is still done enough justice to compel as a flawed, but rewarding experience.
When the fog has cleared, you can find a film too held back by a formulaic and even naturally improvable story concept, atmospheric cold spells that stiffen pacing enough for you to meditate upon repetitious, if not aimless dragging, and a touch too potent of a hint of ambition to fulfill its potential, yet there is still enough beauty to cinematography and score work, effectiveness to direction and inspiration to the performances - particularly those of Jennifer Connelly and Ben Kinsley - for "House of Sand and Fog" to stand as a somewhat messy, but ultimately rewarding dramatic meditation upon the tragedies that can occur when the destinies of the struggling and flawed clash.
3/5 - Good
Riveting performances from Jennifer Connelly and Ben Kingsley in this story that transcends the surface issues and deals with prejudice, pride, desperation and obsession! Make no bones about it, this is a not the usual feel good Hollywood film but a dark and bleak film with no clear hero or villain, just regular people caught up in events that will eventually break them and destroy their lives.