House Of Sand And Fog is about death, sex, greed, and the American dream gone sour. It is not a comedy. A Beautiful Mind Oscar winner Jennifer Connelly stars as a depressed alcoholic, evicted from the house her father left her. Desperate to return home, she harries its new occupants, an immigrant Iranian Colonel (Ben Kingsley) and his family. From the glum faces, stringy score, and ominous opening, we know that SOMETHING VERY BAD IS GOING TO HAPPEN. And it does. Eventually. But the excellent acting is not quite enough to make us care.
Perhaps tragedy needs an element of the unexpected to really work. For while much is right with Vadim Perelman's directorial debut, it is never terribly involving - you simply sit tense for two hours, waiting for the killer blow. Kingsley earns his fourth Oscar nomination (including one win for Gandhi) for efficiently playing a different ethnicity, but is a little too self-consciously dignified, too aware that he's acting.
"HUMANITY AND NUANCE"
Connelly, in contrast, convinces totally as a selfish, desperate and lonely woman, who confesses to her brother, "I just feel lost." The performance of the picture, though, is from Shohreh Aghdashloo as Kingsley's Mrs. Forced to flee her homeland after the 1979 revolution (which saw Iran switch from American-backed monarchy/dictatorship to Islamic theocracy/dictatorship), she's bitter and broken; used to the finer things and humiliated by her immigrant status. "I did not come to America to live like an Arab!" she screams at her husband. And you believe her.
Aghdashloo (who is, as it happens, Iranian) carries the hurt and rage of a country, but brings humanity and nuance to a role which is initially deeply unsympathetic. It is a credit to the filmmakers that they allow rounded, ambiguous characters. But the pessimism of this anti-property/greed/imperialism parable doesn't feel earned as much as revelled in. If you know the house is going to crumble, why go in?