In The Stoning of Soraya M., Oscar-nominated actress Shohreh Aghdashloo plays a desperate aunt who attempts to save her niece from being put to death for having relations with a man that isn't her husband - a crime, or act, that she didn't commit. The U.S.-produced, Farsi-language drama is based on a true story.
The drama, now available on DVD, begins with Jesus himself, Jim Caviezel, getting driven into a small Iranian town after his car breaks down. There the French-Iranian reporter meets Zahra (Aghdashloo), who gives him a detailed account of how and why her niece was stoned to death the night before due to a plot by her husband to get rid of her. Naturally, the townspeople responsible would rather the story not get out.
The Stoning of Soraya M. is a well-acted, fast-paced drama, but suffers from a lack of conflict or believability at times. Aghdashloo (The House of Sand and Fog, "24") delivers a good performance, but her presence is so commanding that, contrasted against the rogue gallery of bland, superficial characters that dot the rest of the story, she comes off as a little frenetic.
The movie, which is based on a book by Freidoune Sahebjam, feels like it was written by two capable writers who, unfortunately, take a very American approach to the story. Having not read the book, I don't know how closely it follows the original story (or how close to the truth it is), but the movie essentially consists of one progressive woman and an entire village of Sharia Law-abiding citizens. As soon as the plot is put in motion, Aghdashloo stands up as the sole voice of reason, which seems awfully convenient. Every man and most of the women in the village just accept the trial and stoning as completely typical, which seemed a little odd considering Aghdashloo's fully Western perspective on the matter.
The problem lies in a lack of character development for the supporting characters. Each one of the "bad guys" are easy to hate, and that's about as much depth as they're given. The mayor, who also presides over the trial, would have been a good candidate to develop more aggressively; the movie hints that he isn't as conservative as his actions suggest, and yet it never makes any effort to explore the dilemma he faces: does he go against Sharia law, or does he do what he knows to be right?
As a result, the movie feels very artificial at times. This makes Aghdashloo's dominant performance appear a little over-the-top, even if it isn't. Still, The Stoning of Soraya M. is perfectly watchable and mildly engaging. Unfortunately, while a valiant effort, the movie is ultimately flat.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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