Say what you will about The Stoning Of Soraya M.: Here’s a movie that definitely delivers on its title. In fact, the title speaks perfectly to the film’s blunt, ham-handed, morally unambiguous treatment of injustice in the wake of the ’79 Islamic Revolution in Iran. It takes zero political courage to speak out against the obvious barbarism of public stonings or the oppressive patriarchy of sharia law, but the film whips out the megaphone anyway, eager to extrapolate the martyrdom of an innocent woman into a broader condemnation of the Muslim world. As directed by first-timer Cyrus Nowrasteh, who wrote the leaden script with his wife, Betsy Giffen Nowrasteh, The Stoning Of Soraya M. has a neocon’s sense of good and evil, which could politely be called “moral clarity,” but is more accurately described as narrow, tone-deaf, and thoroughly banal.
Based on reporting by the late French-Iranian journalist Freidoune Sahebjam, the film takes place in 1986 in an Iranian village lorded over by fundamentalist thugs. Though not the obvious choice to play a Farsi-speaking French-Iranian, James Caviezel slaps on some nose putty and a bum accent as Sahebjam, who winds up in the village after his car breaks down. A local woman, played by Shohreh Aghdashloo (The House Of Sand And Fog), summons Sahebjam to hear the story of Soraya (Mozhan Marnò), a faithful wife and mother of four who was just executed the day before. Soraya’s diabolical husband (Navid Negahban), in an effort to secure a divorce and marry a 14-year-old, conspires with the town’s religious leaders to cook up bogus infidelity charges against her.
The Stoning Of Soraya M. crawls forward in excruciating slow motion toward the inevitable day when sinners cast the first, second, third, and fourth (etc.) stone, stacking the deck at every turn along the way. When it finally gets to the stoning, the film recalls The Passion Of The Christ in its near-pornographic fetishism of violence and martyrdom, which may explain Caviezel’s casting. There’s no denying the dramatic force of the killing—just as no right-thinking person would endorse the odious practice, or the outrageous miscarriage of justice that leads to it. But Nowrasteh constantly overplays his hand, not realizing that some horrors speak for themselves.