True story of Betty Mahmoody is a harrowing one by any standard. Married to Iranian doctor Moody who has lived in the US for 20 years, she reluctantly agrees to accompany him back to Teheran in 1984 to visit his family, only to be told at the end of two weeks that he has decided to remain in Iran.
As related in the by-the-numbers screenplay [from Mahmoody’s book, with William Hoffer], Iran turns Moody from a civilized, sophisticated gent into an intolerant monster within a forthnight. Not only is Betty restricted to the home, but she can’t use the phone, has her passport taken away, and is told that her daughter will be raised as a Muslim.
After nearly two years of staggering suffering, Betty finally manages to make contact with an underground of helpful Iranians who offer to smuggle her and her daughter over the mountains into Turkey, a perilous episode in itself.
With Israel, of all places, standing in for Iran, the film manages to strongly convey how strange and off-putting a truly alien culture can be to an average American. Biggest problem is Moody’s abrupt transition from sensitive husband to violent tyrant; there is little the gifted actor Alfred Molina can do to clarify psychological issues ignored by the script.
Sally Field has the stage to herself to engage the audience’s sympathy, and this she does with an earnest, suitably emotional performance as a rather typically sincere, middle-class American.