House of Acting

House of Sand and FogVadim Perelman’s “House of Sand and Fog” begins with the very end of its story, a narrative device that has become so popular in recent cinema that it provoked in me a feeling of dread. The idea of enduring yet another movie that spends the bulk of its time in flashback has by now a tired, depleted promise to it, and I was seized, in the opening sixty seconds, with a sense that I was embarking on 126 minutes of bad cinema. And in fact, there is a good deal of this movie adaptation of Andrew Dubus III’s novel that is perfunctory and predicated on only unambitious attempts at storytelling, from its cast of not quite fleshed out supporting characters to its sometimes implausible leaps in narrative logic.

It’s a story and a movie told imperfectly, and yet at the same time it packs a real emotional wallop. This is largely thanks to the effort and care that Perelman expends in giving nurture and breathing room to his two leading performers, Ben Kingsley, an actor that is consistently and rivetingly watchable, and the still-emerging Jennifer Connelly, whose beauty might be otherwise too distracting if not for her ability to communicate a completely convincing melancholy.

Looking at these these performances and comparing them to the absurd Oscar-bait showmanship released this past holiday season, I realize how special they are; for all their flaws, they’re not vanity roles by any means. They are roles with real, substantive challenges, and they are performed with significant if imperfect commitment. As a result, I felt genuinely embroiled in “House of Sand and Fog,” which is something I’m pretty sure I haven’t felt while watching a Hollywood movie in quite some time.