House of Sand and Fog

Director: Vadim Perelman

Former Marine Corp Captain Andre Dubus III became one of our most popular and intriguing writers with his early pieces that often featured violence until in 1990 he finally titled an essay “Giving Up the Gun” to illuminate the book-reading public of his decision to alter his work. When trying to sum up his literature, one of the best and most articulate summations was offered to The Guardian in an interview with Todd Field as quoted in Stephanie Harrison’s book Adaptations in regards to the Dubus oeuvre: “Andre’s characters are very complicated, they’re flawed, they have a sense of right and wrong that’s not always very clear, and the actions they take are often violent” (562). While Field was most likely summing up his own Dubus adaptation In The Bedroom, the same is truer yet with Dubus’s novel House of Sand and Fog—a gorgeous, maddening, and thought-provokingly emotional tragedy of the gray area between right and wrong brought to the screen by first time director Vadim Perelman who also helped adapt the screenplay that was completed in just 14 days. Ben Kingsley is commanding, vulnerable, yet quite intimidating in his role as Massoud Behrani, an Iranian military man whose family is forced to leave their wealth and stature as they arrive in California where he tries desperately to keep up the appearance of high class and privilege by changing back into suits in restrooms before returning home from his jobs on a construction crew and in a convenience store. When he sees a notice in the paper advertising a beautiful home overlooking the water up for public auction after being seized by the county, he jumps at the chance to purchase the home for his wife and son with the intentions of fixing it up and selling it at four times his initial payment. A major complication arises when the wrongly evicted owner Kathy (Jennifer Connelly), a recovering addict who has recently undergone a devastating depression after both the death of her father and being left by her husband is erroneously charged a business tax on her inherited family home. The mistake is never corrected even after a court appearance and she is forced onto the street, trying desperately to fight the proud and stubborn Behrani back for her home alongside her new ally and married lover, police officer Lester Burton (Ron Eldard). All of the actors are especially excellent, most notably the Oscar winners Connelly and Kingsley, along with Oscar nominee (for this film) the luminous Iranian actress Shoreh Aghdashloo as Massoud’s wife Nadi, who turns in a star-making role and her tear-inducing audition is included on the DVD. While she was one of the later people cast after Connelly and Kingsley, ironically Sir Ben Kingsley was actually the man Dubus had imagined all along when working on the book and Andre’s wife had even sent Kingsley the book and a personal letter shortly after its publication so when casting for the film version came around, he told Dreamworks and Perelman that he was already extremely familiar and interested in the material. The exquisitely beautiful photography by Roger Deakins (one of film’s master cinematographers) help engross us in the storyline from the moment it begins, although we know it’s heading for an ultimate disaster as both parties are both partly right and partly wrong for, as in life, the answers are never easy and while they fight to come to a resolution, their actions dangerously escalate until a devastating finale that haunted me for days. Don’t miss it— House of Sand and Fog is one of the most gripping tragedies about the American Dream ever put on film.