The story concerns the battle between a young woman and an immigrant Iranian family over ownership of a house in Northern California which ultimately has dire consequences.
Immigrant Massoud Amir Behrani, a former colonel in the Iranian Army, fled his homeland with his family during a time of conflict and now lives in San Francisco. While working at menial jobs, he maintains the appearance of being a respectable businessman so as not to shame his wife Nadireh, son Esmail, and married daughter Soraya. His path crosses with that of Kathy when he purchases her house at a price he later learns is a quarter of its actual value. After some renovations and additions, he intends to flip the property and use the profits to buy a larger home.
Taking the advice of Deputy Sheriff Lester Burdon, who was assigned to handle her eviction, Kathy seeks legal assistance to regain title to her house. Attorney Connie Walsh is confident the fact her property was wrested away from her based on an incorrect assumption she owed taxes will force the county to return Massoud's money and reinstall her in the house. Massoud, however, is not prepared to accept anything less than the appraised value of the property.
Lester leaves his wife and children and becomes Kathy's protector, confronting Massoud and threatening him with deportation if he refuses to cooperate. Kathy, seeing no satisfactory resolution to her problems, attempts suicide in her old driveway and is rescued by Massoud, only to swallow a handful of pills while in the bath. Unconscious, she's discovered by Nadireh, who forces her to vomit the medication. As she and her husband are trying to get Kathy into the bedroom, Lester comes looking for her, misinterprets what he sees, and holds the Behrani family hostage until Massoud agrees to his proposal - accept the $45,000 he paid for the house from the county and relinquish the payment to Kathy in exchange for her giving him title to the property.
Massoud and his son accompany Lester to the county office to finalize the transaction. On the steps, Esmail seizes Lester's gun and aims it at him. Though dishelveled Lester still wears his police uniform and the commotion draws two police officers. To them a fellow officer is being held hostage. The officers draw their weapons and in the confusion Esmail Behrani turns towards them. They shoot in what they believe to be self defence. Esmail is rushed to hospital. He does not survive.
Overcome with grief, Massoud returns home. He drugs his wife's tea with a lethal dose of medication, then dons his old military uniform, tapes a plastic dust cover around his head, and slowly asphyxiates beside his wife's body. Kathy finds the couple and attempts to revive Massoud with CPR, but is unsuccessful. As their bodies are being taken away by paramedics, a policeman asks Kathy if the house is hers. After a pause, she quietly replies that it isn't.
Jonathan Ahdout, whose previous acting experience was limited to school plays, was cast as Esmail Behrani two days prior to the start of filming. His original audition had not impressed Vadim Perelman, but when he began to have doubts about the actor he ultimately had hired, he reviewed the audition tapes and saw something in Ahdout's performance he felt he previously had overlooked. He called him back and had him meet and perform with Aghdashloo. The chemistry between them convinced Perelman the boy was right for the part .
Establishing shots were filmed in San Francisco, Carpinteria, Pacifica, San Mateo County, and Santa Clarita, but the house of the title actually is located in Malibu. An original soundtrack album featuring James Horner's film score and songs by Mohammad Heydari and Elton Ahi was released by Varèse Sarabande.
The film grossed $13,040,288 in the US and $3,902,507 in foreign markets for a worldwide box office total of $16,942,795 .
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times said, "Here is a film that seizes us with its first scene and never lets go, and we feel sympathy all the way through for everyone in it . . . it stands with integrity and breaks our hearts."
Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly rated the film B- with the comments, "[it] has its pretensions, but mostly it's a vigorous and bracingly acted melodrama spun off from a situation that's pure human-thriller catnip . . . though I do wish that the movie didn't spiral into the most shocking of tragedies."
Peter Travers of Rolling Stone rated it three out of a possible four stars and added, "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 . . . Vadim Perelman . . . makes a smashing debut in features . . . Prepare for an emotional wipeout."
In The New Yorker, David Denby stated, "Ben Kingsley . . . [is] the only entertainment in this noble pool of despair . . . Vadim Perelman . . . produces scenes of great intensity, but he doesn’t capture the colloquial ease and humor of American life."
In Salon, Andrew O'Hehir said it "features an astonishing pair of lead performances and one of this year's most impressive directing debuts."
Channel 4 says, "There's nothing wrong in funnelling operatic tragedy through seemingly mundane domestic battles, but the way events escalate here feels deeply fraudulent . . . heavy-handed allegory and symbolism wait at every turn . . . . though relentlessly downbeat, this is so overwrought, underdeveloped and ham-fisted that it's more unintentionally comic than genuinely tragic."