Superbly acted by Ben Kingsley, Jennifer Connelly, Ron Eldard, and Shohreh Aghdashloo, and expertly shot by Roger Deakins, House of Sand and Fog still falls short of being the masterful human tragedy for which the filmmakers are obviously aiming. It's a fairly moving and engrossing drama, but its failures of plot and character development, in addition to James Horner's irritatingly overemphatic score, severely hamper its effectiveness. Kingsley brings restraint and effortless dignity to his role as Behrani, an Iranian colonel who fled Iran when the Shah's rule collapsed. For her part, Connelly gives a perfectly modulated performance and adds real emotional weight as the depressive recovering drug addict, Kathy, with scenes that could easily have turned maudlin in a lesser actor's hands (for example, Kathy's desperate phone call to her older brother). She's so good, in fact, that when Kathy says she cleans houses for a living, we actually believe it. It's only later, when we see Connelly cleaning, that we realize -- nah. Despite the efforts of the stars, the two main characters remain ciphers. Details about Kathy's depression and Behrani's former life as a high commander in a brutally oppressive regime are sketchy, giving the impression that these characters are meant to be seen as symbols, rather than people. While the performances and the seeming intractability of their situation carry the audience along, the film wears its prestigious ambitions on its sleeve, and the lack of specificity renders the proceedings surprisingly hollow.