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HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG

No matter how you slice the suds, itís still soap, not Greek tragedy. Thatís true of Alejandro González Iñárrituís pseudo-arty 21 Grams, itís true of Anthony Minghellaís pseudo-epic Cold Mountain, and itís true of first-time director Vadim Perelmanís just plain awful adaptation of Andre Dubus IIIís Oprah book-club selection, House of Sand and Fog.

Like Russell Banks in Continental Drift, Dubus takes the points of view of a blue-collar American and a foreign immigrant as their lives collide with catastrophic results. Kathy Nicolo (Jennifer Connelly, joining Nicole Kidman, Sarah Polley, Charlotte Rampling, and Scarlett Johansson in the ranks of cinemaís celebrity cleaning ladies) is a recovering substance abuser whoís lost her husband and now is about to lose her house because she neglected to look into the mail piling up on her floor. Massoud Amir Behrani (Ben Kingsley), a former top-ranker in the toppled shahís military, has been trying to rebuild his and his familyís life in America, and he sees buying Nicoloís home dirt-cheap at auction as a key first step.

Neither character seems especially sympathetic (thatís the point of Dubusís first-person narrations), only flawed and human, but Perelmanís miscasting makes sure they come off as glamorized stereotypes. Kingsley, in particular, deserves some kind of award for his embarrassing 10-minute tirade near the end of the film, whose plot includes three suicide attempts. Roger Deakinsís cinematography contributes the only subtle element; he artfully re-creates the fog, but whatís needed is a lot more sand. (126 minutes)


Issue Date: December 26, 2003 - January 1, 2004
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