House of Sand and Fog

Before it runs off course into excess, this brilliantly acted film version of the 1999 novel by Andre Dubus III moves with a stabbing urgency. Ben Kingsley gives one of his greatest performances as Behrani, a former colonel in the air force of the Shah of Iran. Now living in Northern California, where he supports his wife, Nadi (Shohreh Aghdashloo), and their teenage son, Esmail (Jonathan Ahdout), by doing menial jobs, Behrani thinks he's hit pay dirt by buying a house at auction. One hitch: The house formerly belonged to Kathy (Jennifer Connelly, wan and wounded), a junkie who lost the place, unfairly, for nonpayment of taxes. Kathy and Behrani engage in a legal battle that speaks to issues of race and class.

Vadim Perelman, a Ukrainian-born director of commercials, makes a smashing debut in features, showing a keen eye for imploding emotions. On a visit to her former house, Kathy encounters Nadi, who offers her surprising sympathy. Aghdashloo, an Iranian actress, has a face of elegant beauty on which emotions register with startling expressiveness. She is spellbinding, whether serving tea or struggling to stop her world from falling apart. This is acting that cuts quietly to the heart.

There is nothing quiet about the rest of the film, as Behrani is threatened by Lester (Ron Eldard), a married cop who takes up with Kathy, and events spiral into tragedy. Prepare for an emotional wipeout.