New York Times’ Knee-Jerk Review of ‘Soraya’ is Dead Wrong


Ed Morrissey pointed me at the New York Times’ review of “The Stoning of Soraya M,” and I have to say, as predictable as it was, I’m still disappointed.  This is exactly the kind of unimaginative, knee-jerk, cover your ass reaction that John Ziegler warned me about when he told me about the film.  Let’s compare.  From my original review:

The film has some superficial things in common with “The Passion of the Christ,” such as the same production company (MPower Films), star (Jim Caviezel), and a graphic crucifixion.

And from the Times’ review:

Not since “The Passion of the Christ” has a film depicted a public execution in such graphic detail.

…The casting of Jim Caviezel as Freidoune Sahebjam, the Paris-based Iranian journalist whose 1994 best seller. “The Stoning of Soraya M.: A True Story,” recounted the incident, lends the movie a queasy connection to “The Passion of the Christ,” in which Mr. Caviezel played Jesus.

This is a stunning, awe-inspiring example of judging a book by its cover.  What a shame.

As Ed Morrissey points out, the Times’ reviewer doesn’t get his basic facts right, clocking the stoning at 20 minutes:

First, the stoning sequence lasts about eight minutes, not 20. It starts at the 1:31:30 mark, it’s over by 1:40, and it’s intercut with at least one flashback sequence.

This is a big problem, because lots of people are now going to stay away from this movie to avoid a 20 minute torture scene that isn’t there.  That’s a real shame.  The fact is, this scene, while bloody, is nothing at all like Passion of the Christ’s crucifixion scene.

The reviewer goes on to write the rest of the review from the Cynic’s Handbook.

Aside from the stoning scene, which takes up the bulk of the review, he levels criticism at the treatment of the male characters in the film.  This is another obvious red herring:

With the exception of the mayor (David Diaan), who has qualms about the execution, and Mr. Caviezel’s reporter, who appears only briefly at the beginning and end of the movie, the men are fiendishly villainous.

Again, this is not even factually correct, as the most sympathetic male character in the film is Hashem, the mechanic who is extorted into testifying against Soraya.

But, given the subject matter, are we to cry for the treatment of the men in the film?  Soraya’s husband is a guy who wants to kill his wife so he can marry a child!  How much of his inner life do we need to see?

The other men in the town are simply products of a socio-political environment that takes for granted that women are worthless.  Soraya’s father is never seen until her “trial,” and she barely bats an eye at his betrayal of her.

He also slams, twice, one of the film’s lovelier grace notes, missing the point again.  These are 2 separate passages from the review:

In one scene birds flying out of the bushes are compared to angels as John Debney’s mystically overawed music pours on the syrup.

…In one of the film’s sickeningly exploitative touches, Ali, wearing a triumphal grin, examines his wife’s crumpled, blood-drenched body to make sure she is dead and discovers signs of life in a rolled-up eye. The stoning is promptly resumed.

In that earlier scene, one of Soraya’s daughters says, “Look, Mommy, angels!” as the birds fly away, and it is to this scene that Soraya flashes back in the final moments of her life.  When the stoning is resumed, we see the rocks flying at us from Soraya’s point of view, and then the scene cuts to the birds flying away.  It’s the only comfort she, or the audience, gets.

I understand that one man’s poignant drama is another man’s overwrought melodrama.  That’s not so much a matter of taste as one of investment in the characters, the story.  But I wish the Times, if they couldn’t open their hearts and minds to Soraya’s story, could at least have gotten its facts straight.


  1. Maybe the scene would have had a better reception is Soraya said something moving and poignant, such as:

    “Allah, Allah! Forgive these men for acting out with aggression in dispensing the justice I deserve! They know not what they do, angered by the failed policies of the Bush Administration. The stones strike me with renewed vigor not because they were meant for me, but are thrust with a thirst for justice, as though personally heaved at the great Satan Cheney and his unholy minions of Halliburton and Blackwater! How much better off I would be to die still possessing the noble glory that comes to all free citizens who have not been ravaged by NeoCons bent on raping them of their natural resources!”

    There’s a reason I am not a screenwriter.

  2. Yes but Bush wsa not President when this event took place (1986).

  3. Hilts, one would suspect that if the Times couldn’t be bothered to get it’s other facts straight, it wouldn’t be a stretch to call for a little artistic license.

  4. I’ll watch any flick. Saw Passion twice. That’s not what bothers me. I will unfairly prejudge this movie. One of the producers did “An American Carol.” Perhaps the worst movie I’ve seen in years. I had to turn it off. I too am irked by the Passion crossovers. In production and cast. Why is the Right pumping this film so hard, even if it stands on its own? Ziegler, Hot Air, and the production crew. It may be a fine film I thought passion was a good film. But, at least I knew what I was getting. Everyone is against stoning women, why the push from the Right?

  5. I saw The Stoning of Soraya M. Yesterday.
    The movie is so powerful, its scary!
    I hope u read my little review about it on my blog Not Sure…


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