House of Sand and Fog
Film Length: 126 minutes
Aspect Ratio: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.85:1)
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
The story is pretty simply and deals with two families both with a haunted past. Kathy (Jennifer Connelly) is going through a hard period. Her husband left her eight months earlier and she hasn’t gotten over that. Things take a turn for the worse when she is evicted from the house, which her father built and gave to her after his death. While being removed from her house she meets a police officer named Lester (Ron Eldard) who tries to help her by finding a place for her to live. He’s also going through personal problems with a wife and two children but soon he and Kathy find themselves falling in love even with all their problems.
The other half of the picture deals with Behrani (Ben Kingsley), a once powerful man who finds himself losing everything. Working two jobs to support his son and wife (Shohreh Aghdashloo), Behrani sees a wonderful chance to make one more stab at a life. He eventually buys the house formally owned by Kathy and plans to remodel the thing and sell it at a higher price. This here would send his son to college and take care of the wife. However, this would also destroy Kathy who soon shows up at the house demanding that he return it to her. As Kathy and Lester become more and more desperate, they attempt to get the house back no matter what but this here just leads to more heartache.
It should come to no shock that House of Sand and Fog went in and out of theaters very fast. It’s still rather shocking that people will flock to see whatever crap Hollywood throws at them yet they overlook a film like this that is so refreshing that I find it sad no audience located the film. Even with a couple Oscar nominations, this film still hasn’t gotten much buzz around it but hopefully that’ll change when it is released on DVD. Instead of watching a silly film about a cat and a hat, hopefully more people will check this film out because it’s one of a kind.
In most dramas made today, there is a good guy and a bad guy and in the end good prevails over evil and everyone leaves the theater with a smile on their face as they face the real world where this type of stuff doesn’t happen. House of Sand and Fog deals with many ugly issues and many of these issues are downright depressing but throughout all this ugliness there isn’t a single second that comes off as fake or forced. Instead of us getting good versus evil, instead the screenplay is smart enough to deliver good versus good. As in real life, something the good get so desperate that they make mistakes and sometimes these mistakes lead to tragedy but I think that’s the entire point of this film.
There are many instances where we could cuss and scream at the Kingsley character but instead, the director makes us realize that he’s doing nothing wrong and that the only thing he’s guilty of is wanting to make a better life for his family. The Connelly character does many stupid things throughout the film that hurts others more than herself yet once again, the director doesn’t make us hate this woman. Why can’t we hate these characters? Because the film is smart enough to keep its integrity, which is something missing from many films today. As much as we hate seeing what’s going on with these two families at the same time we understand them and love them because we can see what’s inside their hearts. No matter how mean and cruel things get we know deep down these people are trying to do what’s right but something being right isn’t the correct way to do things.
There is so much that unfolds in this film that I couldn’t possibly go into it without revealing spoilers, which I certainly won’t do. There are many fights, tears, blood and pain but through it all the viewer just sits there realizing how natural all of this is and not for one second do we feel something is being fed for us just for a certain emotion. The film has so many guts that it’s hard to believe something like this would be made by a major studio today. The ending, which is outright shocking, is something many people here will be upset about and think it’s ugly, but looking at the heart’s of these characters we can’t help but respect what happens. This ending isn’t forced on us nor is it thrown at us to make us cry. Instead the ending is given to us because the characters have integrity and certain mistakes will lead you down one road.
The highlight to the film is the wonderful performances, which certainly didn’t get enough attention. Ben Kingsley has always remained one of the best character actor’s out there and here he turns in what might be his best performance. The screenplay forces his character to play many emotions and go through many stages and Kingsley pulls them off without a hitch. There are many scenes in the film where it would have been easy to go over the edge but that never happens. Instead of seeing some wacky old man, we see a haunted man with a haunted past that will lead to more badness due to his good heart. Jennifer Connelly is certainly moving her way up the ladder of the best actresses working today. She’s played desperate and depresses characters before but here she must also show the heart of the character. There are many wonderful scenes but the best is where Connelly must try and tell her brother that’s she’s lost everything her father worked for. The way Connelly handles this scene is brilliantly done and should have gotten her another Oscar nomination. Shohreh Aghdashloo steals the show as the wife who can barely speak English yet she’s trying to understand why her husband is fighting with this strange woman. I’ve seen many films in my life but this here is without a doubt one of the most naturalistic performance in my memory.
In order to really love and care for someone, you must listen and observe them, taking the bad with the good. In this film, we are shown many characters and we must listen to them and look past all the ugly things going on to see the beauty that each of them hold in their hearts. Every movie fan out there must applaud Dreamworks for having the guts to make a movie like this and release it when I’m sure they knew there wouldn’t be much of an audience. Why a film like this gets overlooked each and every year is beyond me but hopefully more people will give this film the chance it deserves.
VIDEO---The film is shown widescreen (1.85:1) and is enhanced for 16x9 TVs. There’s no shock here but once again Dreamworks delivers a wonderful transfer, which is pretty darn close to reference quality. The film’s actual look is something incredible to look at and the transfer brings all of this out. The blacks are very deep without any noticeable problems and the contrast remains perfect throughout. Several scenes take place in the fog with a blueish tint to them and this is where the transfer really shines. There’s some minor edge enhancement in a few scenes but nothing major. I mainly noticed this in Chapter 13 but everything else is pretty much perfection.
AUDIO---We get a Dolby Digital 5.1 track, which does the film justice. This is a dialogue driven film so don’t expect anything too loud. The dialogue is crystal clear and mixed perfectly with the Surrounds, which are mainly used for the music score. The score is very aggressive throughout the film and minor sound effects are also perfectly handled.
EXTRAS---Up first are six deleted scenes, all shown widescreen and enhanced for 16x9 TVs. You’ve got the option to watch them alone or you can select the audio commentary option. Five of the scenes are very nice but like most cases, it was best to cut them out of the film. Up next is an audition tape for Aghdashloo, which is something I wish more studios would include. Her performance in the audition pretty much matches what we get in the final film so it’s clear to see how perfect she was for the role. Next is a still gallery, which contains some very nice photos of the cast among other things. Filmographies and production notes are also included. Next is a behind the scenes segment, which runs just over 24-minutes. This includes interviews with Kingsley, director Vadim Perelman and Andre Dubus. The interviews are very interesting and a lot of detail is given about the characters, the production as well as the novel. Finally we get an audio commentary with the same three people and this here goes into better detail about the making of the film. Strangely, no theatrical trailer is included.
OVERALL---Another brilliant movie that didn’t find an audience while in theaters but I really hope this gets another life on DVD. Dreamworks has once again delivered a wonderful disc with a remarkable transfer and very nice sound mix. The extras are all nice especially for fans of the film.
Release Date: March 30, 2004