House of Sand and Fog
The grotesque tragedy that befalls every single character in House of Sand and Fog
is borne not of moral justice or narrative contrivance, but of the sad, simple truth of the human condition, and the chasm between what we can attain and what we think we need. It has become a very American desire to attain property and use that property to define your existence, and the Iranian family at the center of this drama learns the inherent paradox of the hollow American dream: the impossibility of pursuing it without adopting the corrupt values associated with it. Ben Kingsley plays the patriarch of this family, and in a speech to his son he explains why they won't become like greedy Americans always looking for a sweet taste in their mouth, like children striving for false goals. Yet as he himself yearns to establish himself in a new nation as a military exile, he finds himself locked in a battle with an American woman (Jennifer Connelly in a sensational performance) suffering injustice from bureaucracy. Kingsley is then trapped between the apparent needs of his family and the ethical mandate Connelly has against him.
This struggle is the locus for several characters all trying to weigh their own flaws against their good will, and in the world of this film the flaws always seem to have a firmer grasp. Ron Eldard's racist adulterer isn't quite the villain he would be in a lesser film, but he's not the heroic savior that he intially presents himself as to Connelly. And Kingsley and Connelly are both wholly sympathetic, warts and all, and the audience is never on strong moral footing one way or the other. Both characters are strong, justified victims and martyrs. Vadim Perelman's direction makes sure to add layers of doubt to every action, filtering each turn of the plot through at least three different points of view so as to color every decision with subjectivity. Most of this is done in subtext through gestures, silent reactions, and lack of dialogue, but when it does come out in the text it only rarely succumbs to heavy-handedness. For the most part the intensity of this gripping film is based on very real and provocative issues about desire, confrontation, compromise, and ultimately asserting an identity as an outsider feeling entitled to that which you can never fully achieve. It's about what it means to be American in an increasingly bogus and one-sided patriotic political world (the film takes place in the Reagan '80s but could easily exist today), and what it means to put your foot down on land even if it results in jamming a nail through your skin.