Pride, anger, loss, desperation, law, love, strength, and weakness collide to create vast tragedy in this story of a battle for a house that overlooks the water.
It begins as a clearly distressed woman is asked, “Is this your house?” She does not answer.
The woman is Kathy (Jennifer Connelly), and to her, the house is her refuge after a marital break-up. The house was built by her father, who left it to her and her brother in his will. It is all she has, and she has retreated so completely that she has not read her mail, which included an erroneous notice of an overdue tax bill. Because she did not respond, the county evicts her and auctions the house for a fraction of its value.
The buyer is an immigrant, an Iranian colonel named Behrani (Ben Kingsley). He has spent almost all of his savings to maintain a lifestyle that enabled his daughter to marry well. For him, buying the house will make it possible for him to quit his construction job. He plans to sell the house at a profit to start his return to a position consistent with his education and ability.
Behrani likes to remember that at his home in Iran he ordered the trees cut down so that he could have a clear view of the water.
For Kathy and Behrani the fight is not about money; it is about home. The house is a refuge. It is a part of them. When Behrani tells his wife he has bought the house, she does not want to leave their apartment. For her, home is the place you stay, or you are a nomad. Kathy feels safe inside the house. Once she leaves, she begins to unravel, starting to smoke and drink again, unable to stay away from the house. She begins to fall in love with Lester, the cop who evicted her (Ron Eldard). Kathy must return to the house to be healed. But she cannot do that without destroying the lives of other people.
The lives of Kathy and Behrani circle, parallel, and intersect each other. Both must take on menial jobs and change their clothes in public bathrooms. Both are too proud to tell their families the truth about their situations. Behrani’s devotion to his children parallels Kathy’s loss of her father and the house he left to her when he died, as well as her own longing for a child. The Behrani family alternately treats Kathy as an intruder, a guest, and ultimately almost as a member of the family when they take her in at her most devastated and care for her as though she was a child. She wakes up the next morning in the house, swathed in silks like an Arabian nights princess. But the fairy tale becomes a nightmare.
Connelly, Kingsley, Eldard, and Shohreh Aghdashloo as Mrs. Bahrani are all superb, and the adaptation of the award-winning book is a thoughtful and serious, if uneven, translation of the book’s language and tone. It fails to sustain a sense of tragic inevitability and that prevents it from being truly involving.
Parents should know that the movie has extreme, graphic, and tragic violence including murder, attempted and successful suicides, domestic abuse, and an accidental shooting. There are explicit sexual references and situations, including adultery and nudity. Characters drink and smoke, including an alcoholic character who ends a period of sobriety. Characters use very strong language and there are many harsh and painful confrontations.
Families who see this movie should talk about why it was so hard for Kathy and the Colonel to come to some kind of compromise. Does the movie make a distinction between what is legal and what is right? What is it? How do the different characters define home? The book has an epigraph by Octavio Paz: “Beyond myself/ somewhere/ I wait for my arrival.” How does that apply to this story?
Families who appreciate this movie will also appreciate the Oscar-winning performances of leads Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind) and Ben Kingsley (Gandhi).