Having a limited nationwide theatrical release on September 11th, that was pushed back a week later to September 18th. “Infidel” is Iranian writer and director, Cyrus Nowrasteh’s sixth feature film. I was unfamiliar with Nowrasteh’s work, but “Infidel” has me curious to check out his earlier work. Researching his career I found he is one to never be afraid of speaking the truth even if controversy may follow.
Nowrasteh has triggered both conservatives and liberals with his films “The Day Reagan Was Shot”, “The Stoning of Soraya M”, “The Young Messiah” and “The Path to 9/11” television mini-series. “Infidel” is his second collaboration with actor Jim Caviezel, who has expressed his strong faith in Christ and his faith as a Christian. His faith was front and center in his most well known cinematic performance and arguably his most recognized film to date in Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ”.
Jim Caviezel plays Doug Rawlins, an outspoken Christian American journalist and blogger, who is kidnapped by members of the Iranian regime while he is in Cairo as a keynote speaker. He is then taken to the Middle East and put on trial for charges of being a spy. His wife Liz (played by Claudia Karvan) is a State Department official who is trying to use her influence to get the American government involved and get her husband back. However, she soon realizes that the American government doesn’t want to get involved, therefore she decides to go to the Middle East to rescue him herself.
“Infidel” is being released by Cloudburst Entertainment, a new indie distributor that was founded by former Pure Flix (production and streaming company that releases Christian films) executives, Steve Fedyski and Ken Rather. With that said,?”Infidel” does have it’s moments of being a film about faith, but it is not a Pure Flix title nor is it heavy handed on any religious preaching.
It is first and foremost a middle eastern thriller that plays in three easy to distinct and well structured acts. Act 1: Focuses on Doug and Liz’s relationship, Doug working as a Christian blogger and Liz as a State Department official. Act 2: Doug’s kidnapping and his time as a prisoner. Act 3: Closes with Liz flying to Tehran to rescue Doug from his captors.
“Infidel” was shot on-location in Jordan, where the the film had heavy security and the Jordanian film commission had to keep its filming secret for fear of objections from the Iranian government. “Infidel” serves as a sort of spiritual successor to his 2009 film “The Stoning of Soraya M”, which also dealt with abuses and corruption by the Iranian regime and starred Jim Caviezel as a foreign journalist antagonized by the regime. “Infidel” is based on true events that cites several real world instances of American nationals imprisoned by the Iranian government, including Xiyue Wang and most famously Robert Levinson.
Nowrasteh’s storytelling wisely avoids any overly exaggerated dramatic sequences, instead trusting the power of the based on real events approach and the ability of his actors. Caviezel who has always been a strong believer of Christianity and because of his faith he looks and feels like one of those guys who actually would die for his faith. Here he is playing a man for whom his faith may very well cost him his life.
Caviezel who is most well-known for portraying Jesus in Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ”, as well as the excellent CBS series “Person of Interest” (really great series that is an easy and entertaining binge watch). But I have so much affection for his 2000 film “Frequency”, where Caviezel plays an emotionally damaged man who connects with his dead father (Dennis Quaid) over a ham radio. Caviezel gives yet another passion filled performance, but is really good when he is in prisoner vs his preacher mode.
Playing his wife, Claudia Karvan plays it with the kind of normalcy you’d expect from a State Department employee. There’s a powerful scene, in particular of Karvan inside an Iranian apartment that she exudes vulnerability and a re-emerging of her faith (a flashback explains her loss of faith). She’s not your typical upset wife waiting at home nor is she the kick butt action hero. She is just a strong woman who knows how to get things done. Caviezel and Karvan have worked together before in director Nowrasteh’s film, “The Stoning of Soraya M” and you can feel their chemistry.
As the lead villain Ramzi, Hal Ozsan creates a charismatic but menacing abductor. Not playing to the stereotypical “Middle Eastern” villain. He comes from a very authentic place of anger and grievance. He’s not devout and religion doesn’t come into his reasoning of kidnapping Doug. He’s just a practical man of the world and not drawn out blandly.
I’m not sure what Christian audiences will think of “Infidel”? Since it’s not really a religious film and is a R rated action thriller. It is violent and has its share of profanity, with action that Nowrasteh handles confidently giving us many legitimately gripping moments. Featuring several fight scenes, explosions, shoot outs and both car and foot chases. Nowrasteh tells a compelling story and tells it with great tension. It’s no “Argo”, “The Kingdom” or “Beirut”, but it’s a satisfying and thrilling entry to the genre.
GRADE: ★★★☆☆ (3 out of 5)