Massoud Amir Behrani is living a lie to fulfill a dream. Once a member of the Shah of Iran's elite inner circle, he has brought his family to America to build a new life. Despite a pretense of continued affluence, he is barely making ends meet until he sees his opportunity in the auction of a house being sold for back taxes. It is a terrible mistake. Through a bureaucratic snafu, the house had been improperly seized from its rightful owner, Kathy Lazaro, a self-destructive alcoholic. The loss of her home tears away Kathy's last hope of a stable life--a life that had been nearly destroyed by addiction--and Kathy decides to fight to recover her home at any cost. Her struggle is joined by deputy sheriff Lester Burdon, who tries to take the law into his own hands to help Kathy. Ultimately the tale, itself, explores what happens when the American Dream goes terribly awry.
Jennifer Connelly plays Cathy Nicolo, a recovering addict whose modest house on the California coast is seized by the county, and sold at auction to Massoud Behrani (Ben Kingsley), a former Iranian military officer living in gloomy exile with his family. Cathy's attempt to get back the house and Behrani's intransigent refusal to let go of it escalate toward a heavily foreshadowed catastrophe. The movie, adapted from a novel by Andre Dubus III, is the nearly flawed execution of a deeply flawed premise. The logic of the story seems to override the plausible motives of the characters, and you may feel the overwhelming force of the tragic ending without quite believing it. Ms. Connelly is a bit blank, her intelligence trapped by Cathy's passivity, but Mr. Kingsley, playing a patriarch in crisis, is superb. So are Ron Eldard, as the sheriff s deputy whose attempts to help Cathy accelerate the inevitable disaster, and especially Shohreh Aghdashloo, who plays Behrani's weary, good-hearted wife. Vadim Perelman, directing his first feature film, shows himself to be a filmmaker of impressive tact and restraint. The film's stately, classical rhythm is enhanced by Roger Deakins's rich and somber cinematography. — A. O. Scott
2003-12-19 | A. O. Scott | Read the New York Times Review of House of Sand and Fog