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.