Picks and Pans Review: House of Sand and Fog

updated 12/22/2003 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/22/2003 AT 01:00 AM EST

Jennifer Connelly, Ben Kingsley, Ron Eldard

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It's not much of a house, but to the destitute recovering alcoholic (Connelly) and Iranian immigrant (Kingsley) fighting over it in this superb drama, the run-down bungalow near San Francisco means everything. She lost the house in a tax mix-up; he bought it at auction, hoping the place would be his springboard to the American dream. Neither is wrong, and yet everything goes terribly wrong for both of them.

Based on a 1999 novel by Andre Dubus III and sensitively directed by promising newcomer Vadim Perelman, House of Sand and Fog follows the tragic trajectory of their escalating dispute. As a proud man no longer willing to bend, Kingsley is astonishingly, heart-breakingly good. So are Shohreh Aghdashloo as his wife, Connelly as his fragile rival, and Eldard as a cop sympathetic to her. Long after the credits have rolled on this sorrow-filled saga, the characters and their fates will continue to haunt you. House dazzles with something better than special effects: character and story. (R)

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