Almost two years ago a film was released entitled “Changing Lanes.” It told the story of two imperfect men who end up entwining one another in a series of vengeful reactions—because of a fender-bender.
“House of Sand and Fog” is also a movie about two flawed and struggling individuals who are thrust into a battle of wills without ever sharing a rational conversation. Academy Award winner Jennifer Connelly plays Kathy, a lonely woman who loses her parents’ home because of a government mistake concerning the property taxes. Academy Award winner Ben Kingsley plays a former Iranian general, Behrani, who purchases Kathy’s house in the hopes of a new life for his family.
Both need the house in many ways for the same moral reason: family. Both are not willing to compromise or even speak rationally to one another. These are not evil people doing evil things. These are normal people making bad choices and refusing to consider that the good and righteous choice lies beyond their wishes.
“House of Sand and Fog” boasts three of the finest performances of this past year. Connelly and Kingsley both deliver Oscar-caliber performances and may soon receive nominations. Shohreh Aghdashloo has also created a great deal of buzz about her performance as Behrani’s wife who struggles with her loyalty to family as the conflict intensifies. All three of these performances elevate the engrossing screenplay based on the novel by Andre Dubus III.
“House of Sand and Fog,” as with “Changing Lanes” before it, has at least two prominent lessons. First, the film is a commentary on contemporary American society where people have lost the ability to listen and care. In this fast-paced world where material success and possessions mean almost everything, it is easy to let one’s selfish desires mute the needs of another. The other lesson concerns the escalation of unrighteous choices. Sin, by its nature, expands and complicates life. As Kathy and Behrani each choose to escalate the situation, it becomes harder for goodness to prevail.
At one moment in the film, one of the two main characters makes a choice based on personal religious faith. There is a glimmer of hope for these characters at that moment, but there is also the unease that this hope may be fleeting.
There are no easy answers at the end of “House of Sand and Fog.” As I exited the theater, I overheard one viewer comment to another that the film should have ended differently. I could not have disagreed more with her assessment. Had the film ended the way she wished, the implication would be that all the immoral choices and tragedy that followed were meaningless. Instead, the audience sees true consequences to unrighteous choices.
If one has never seen “Changing Lanes,” but enjoys “House of Sand and Fog,” one should rent the former. If one liked “Changing Lanes,” one should definitely see the much more tragic “House of Sand and Fog.” Together, when both are available for home viewing, these two fine films will make a fantastic double feature on the inability to empathize—and the sometimes hazardous results of this inability.
Roger Thomas is pastor of First Baptist Church in Ablemarle, N.C.
MPAA Rating: R for violence and language
Director: Vadim Perelman
Writers: Vadim Perelman and Shawn Lawrence Otto (from a novel by Andre Dubus III)
Cast: Kathy: Jennifer Connelly; Behrani: Ben Kingsley; Lester: Ron Eldard; Connie Walsh: Frances Fisher; Carol Burdon: Kim Dickens.
The movie’s official Web site is here.