House Of Sand And Fog

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House Of Sand And Fog

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Featuring more fog machines than an Andrew Lloyd Webber touring company, Vadim Perelman's House Of Sand And Fog clogs its Bay Area exteriors with billowing plumes of backlit smoke. For Perelman, a commercial director making his feature debut, this recurring atmospheric touch suffocates the screen in portent, elevating a petty real-estate dispute to the grim heights of modern Greek tragedy. But viewers may take it as a travel advisory: After miles of driving through pea soup, it finally comes time to pull off the road. Adapted from Andre Dubus III's novel, the story turns on an absurd bureaucratic fillip, but Perelman barely allows a second of levity or irony to puncture his airless, fussed-over frames. Despite a trio of thoughtful, full-bodied performances by Ben Kingsley, Jennifer Connelly, and Shohreh Aghdashloo, the film wears its seriousness like a wet blanket; even before the ludicrous finale, it becomes maddeningly difficult to get out from under it. Still reeling from a broken marriage and a bout with addiction, Connelly loses her ranch-style home near the ocean a mere six months after inheriting it from her father. By any reasonable standard, the circumstances surrounding her eviction are grossly unfair, revolving around a neglected $500 tax notice for which she wasn't responsible in the first place. But as soon as the county sets it up for auction, the property is snapped up by Kingsley, an exiled Iranian colonel who scraped together the down payment from humbling stints as a road worker and a convenience-store clerk. The state offers to buy the place back from Kingsley, but he intends to sell it at four times the price in order to reclaim aristocratic life with his wife Aghdashloo and his young son. Meanwhile, Connelly finds a dangerous advocate in Ron Eldard, a married police deputy who takes the displaced woman under his wing and tries more underhanded tactics to seize her house back. Both Connelly and Kingsley have equal claim on the property, and it's to the film's credit that it holds both in equal regard, holding their virtues and flaws in careful balance. But they're ultimately reduced to players in a heavily symbolic and agonizingly deterministic treatise on America itself, with the house at the center of an ongoing epic struggle between natives and immigrants. Under the freight of all this significance–aggravated by Perelman's moody visuals and James Horner's prodding piano score–House Of Sand And Fog folds like a house of cards, collapsing under its own flimsy foundation.

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