At the heart of the harrowing "House of Sand and Fog" is a battle over the ownership of a house. The seaside home has been taken away from Kathy (Jennifer Connelly), a recovering addict who's neglected to pay her taxes. She's desperate to get it back from the new owner, Colonel Behrani (Ben Kingsley), who bought it from the city for a rock-bottom price. For Behrani, a fiercely proud Persian refugee struggling to reclaim his former fortune, the house--which he plans to fix and resell--is his family's only hope. He's as determined to keep it as she is to get it back.
Vadim Perelman's film elicits our sympathy, as well as our wariness, for both dispossessed protagonists. Kingsley conveys the violence lurking beneath Behrani's hatchet-sharp will. Connelly captures Kathy's unnerving volatility. She becomes even more reckless when she falls off the wagon, and the danger heightens when a married cop (Ron Eldard), who's fallen for her, uses the law for his own ends. The climax is a tragic pileup so appalling that it nearly derails the movie. Novelist Andre Dubus's plotting may be too much for a two-hour movie. But the story's details feel fresh. The vivid clarity of the images, the compressed fury of the tale, are impossible to get out of your head.