Directed by Vadim Perelman, starring Jennifer Connelly, Ben Kingsley, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Ron Eldard, Frances Fisher and Kim Dickens.

'House of Sand and Fog' has all the hallmarks of a serious film. It has been adapted from a novel that was a finalist for the US National Book Awards and features a weighty Oscar-winning (and nominated) cast. As long as you're not looking for chuckles, it won't disappoint. This is a heavy-hitting and morally complicated drama about choices and their consequences, the search for and loss of the American Dream.

The story is told from the viewpoints of two compelling characters. Former addict Kathy Nicolo (Connelly), who has been dealing with depression since her husband walked out, is wrongly evicted from her family home. The county repossesses the property and immediately auctions it off to Massoud Amir Behrani (Kingsley), a former colonel in the Iranian Air Force. A proud and once-influential man, Behrani has been working menial jobs - on the roads by day, in a petrol station at night - to preserve an appearance of affluence. In Kathy's house he sees a way to build a better life for him and his family the American Way, by buying at a low price and selling for four times as much.

It is a personal conflict that hurtles towards tragedy. Lost and desperate, Kathy cannot stay away from the place that epitomises her former happiness and Behrani is inflexible in his ownership. These fundamentally decent but self-absorbed people each have a rightful claim on the property but are incapable of seeing the situation from another perspective until it is too late.

There are no moral certainties in 'House of Sand and Fog'. Each example of prejudice and misunderstanding take the ambiguous but rounded characters further and further away from any kind of compromise. Behrani's imperious nature fuels Kathy's sense of bitterness and, when she becomes involved with a married policeman (Eldard), the situation spirals towards violence.

James Horner's doom-laden score and atmospheric camera work from award-winning cinematographer Roger Deakins - particularly the shots of misty mountains and scudding clouds that act as visual interludes between each chapter of the story - add to the ominous feeling of on-coming disaster.

Jennifer Connelly and in particular Ben Kingsley turn in remarkable performances, wringing every drop of empathy from unsympathetic, but deeply vulnerable, roles. They are more than ably supported by a cast of fully-formed secondary characters and Iranian actress Shohreh Aghdashloo is mesmerising as Behrani's wife, humiliated by her exile from the country she loves yet desperately afraid of deportation.

'House of Sand and Fog' is director Vadim Perelman's first feature film and he scarcely puts a foot wrong. He's going to have a lot to live up to after this emotionally charged and spellbinding debut.

Caroline Hennessy