We follow Jennifer Connelly from her underrated turn as Betty Ross in Hulk to a small, but bitter little pill she starred in the same year called House of Sand and Fog.
Connelly plays Kathy Nicole. She is both the protagonist and antagonist of the film. Nicole is a recovering drug addict who is suffering from severe depression because her husband left her. In her unresponsive state, she ignores a number of delinquent tax notices from the county o the tiny beach house she inherited from her father. She only realizes she owes any taxes when the police come to forcibly evict her.
Whe the county puts the house up for sale, it is purchased by Massoud Amri Bahrani, a former Iranian colonel who served under the shah and fled during the revolution. He is played wonderfully by Ben Kingsley. Bahrani keeps up the appearance of being a respectable businessman I order to not shame himself or his family. He is in fact a lowly convenience store clerk. But the purchase of the beach house for a fraction of its value helps build up his wounded pride.
The sale of the house puts the two on a collision course in which I went back and forth sympathizing and despising them both. They are both sympathetic characters who are victims of circumstance, yet their frustrated reactions to their problems are appalling. Nicole will do anything to get her house back, including manipulating a corrupt sheriff named Lester (Ron Eldard) in a loveless marriage to harass Bahrani. Bahrani himself has been so beaten down by life, he brutalizes his family to soothe the assaults on his manhood.
The real tragedy strikes when an terrible I would rather not spoil bonds Nicole and Bahrai, yet Lester misunderstands it all and bullies Bahrani into giving back the house against both his and Nicole’s wishes. Bhrani loses far more than the house, which prompts him to commit the ultimate tragic act of killing his family and himself.
The only reason I am willing to spoil that point is because the movie does, too, right off the bat, then tells the story in flashback. The only point I really dislike about House of Sand and Fog is that the film starts with the aftermath of Bahrani’s final act of desperation. It takes much of the sting out of the story when you know how he an his family wind up. Why filmmakers insist upon using that storytelling technique is beyond me. If you are going to blow the ending in the first scene, you need to give us one heck of a journey up until that point.
Fortunately, House of Sand and Fog delivers in that regard. The way I was emotionally manipulated by these characters is a experience I have not often had watching a movie. It is painful to watch, very depressing, and will stick with you for days after viewing. But I highly recommend it.
Rating: ***** (out of 5)