In 1986, a rural Iranian woman was buried to her waist and stoned to death by the menfolk of her village. Her crime? Smiling at her male employer. That's what it boiled down to as reported by French-Iranian journalist Freidoune Sahebjam in his best-selling "The Stoning of Suraya M." Her friendliness to a widower for whom she did housekeeping was the only pretext that Suraya's husband (who wanted her out of the way so he could marry a 14-year-old girl) could manipulate into a false charge of adultery. Add a gullible "witness," a weaselly mullah, a corruptible mayor and a sharia legal system that disempowered the accused woman, and you've got a village lynching.
Iranian American director Cyrus Nowrasteh, co-writing with wife Betsy Giffen Nowrasteh, has amplified the basic elements of Suraya's story into the worst kind of exploitive Hollywood melodrama, presented under the virtuous guise of moral outrage. The titular victim's plight is overshadowed by ingrate villagers and the lone-hero actions of her defiant aunt Zahra (the estimable Shohreh Aghdashloo), who attempts to expose the conspiratorial machinations of Suraya's abusive husband and the pigheaded town fathers.
The creative team has ample experience in inflating true-life tragedies entailing really bad deaths. Nowrasteh scripted the odiferous 2006 miniseries "The Path to 9/11"; chief co-producer Stephen McEveety had worked in a like capacity for the clinically violent "The Passion of the Christ." They've worked up a lollapalooza of a climax, stretching Suraya's death march to a stomach-churning half-hour, accentuated by the doom-laden soundtrack of children clacking rocks, a tearfully eloquent last speech for Suraya and tight close-ups of Suraya's final agony that lend literal new meaning to "the money shot." Nowrasteh milks the victim's horrific demise with a relish that unintentionally implicates the audience in the rabid voyeurism of the attending villagers. "The Stoning of Suraya M." is a coliseum show with ringside seats.
-- Jan Stuart (June 26, 2009)
Contains a disturbing sequence of cruel and brutal violence, and brief strong language.
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