The House of Sand and Fog

Starring:
  • That One Chick Who Everybody Thinks is Really Hot
  • Gandhi
  • Lots of Fog...a Little Less Sand

 

 
Directed by Vadim Perelman

"Listen, that non-violent crap ain't gonna work here in the U.S., pal! Oh, you're not really Gandhi. My bad, sir."

First-Timer Missteps

The good news is that Ben Kingsley and Jennifer Connelly act the hell out this movie. Ben Kingsley is in great shape for an older man, and this is not just a statement of vanity. As a former Iranian colonel who lost his wealth and power, the role requires an authoritative presence, but one that shows cracks in the unflappable facade. Kingsley's upright, taut body projects the internal fortitude of these men, yet he's prone to fits of rage followed by supreme gentleness. Kingsley is so strong that he diminishes everyone around him--which for a movie like this, is exactly what's required. Kingsley dares men to stand up to him; his speech can have the staccato rhythm of machine gun fire. He looks likes he could headbutt you at any moment. I am scared of Ben Kingsley. That is a sixty year old man who can kick my ass.

As for Jennifer Connelly, she plays another variation on the depressed modern woman. In Requiem for a Dream, she was the young romantic; in A Beautiful Mind, she mustered the strength to stand by a great but damaged man; here, she's the working class woman who is in such a funk that she can't even open her mail. Yet, she't not strictly a sad-sack--Connelly projects inner-turmoil and inner-strength. I know that's a cliche, but let's look to her first scene as evidence. Her mother calls to tell her that she's coming to town. At first, Connelly just sleepily voices her story: "No Mom, my husband's going to be out of town...I'm not sure that's a good weekend..." As the camera pulls back, we see empty pizza boxes and stacks of unopened mail. It's clear that this woman is a mess. But she maintains enough poise to make it through the call without the slightest hint (other than the fudgy story) of calamity. Except for a single tear that runs down her check when her mother asks about her husband, who has apparently left Connelly--yet her voice doesn't waver. That single moment defines the character's fortitude and fragility, setting up the rest of the movie. That's why Jennifer Connelly is more than just that one chick with the big rack.

The bad news is that, over the course of its runtime, this is the sort of literary adaptation that needs to tell its tale with the pithiness of that first scene, but first-time director Vadim Perelman can't sustain the narrative. He loses track of plot points, and he relies on the old stand-by of the fragile female as a caged bird for dramatic torque. There are some good images (the Golden Gate bridge looms in the background, tempting our protagonists to come over and jump off), but the movie falls apart at the seams. The film never develops the same coherent thematic on the American Dream that the book does--he just tosses some images out there, but doesn't cohere them into the literary tapestry the book creates. Still, had the ending not felt so hasty, the movie might have worked, but Perelman just edits bits and pieces of the plot together at the end and relies on Howard Shore's score to carry the climax. It's too bad, because Perelman's actors really throw themselves into the movie.

 

 

The Pitch:
1 In the Bedroom
Plus
 
1 Requiem for a Dream
Equals
 
2 The House of Sand and Fog
See It For:

Vadim tries explains to Jennifer how the new script changes now require shooting some Mulholland Falls-style sex tape footage.