Boldly conceived but dismally executed, Harald Holzenleiter’s “The Stoning” aims to graphically condemn the barbaric practice of capital punishment through stoning, but loses all credibility when terrorists, kidnapped bankers and a German swat team are tossed in for added excitement. The idea of using a young American woman as the victim of stoning in today’s Iran is awkward enough, given that no such case has ever come to light. Despite its phoney premise, the shock value of the subject may still attract some initial theatrical interest before this torturous effort expires into ancillary.
While living in Tehran with her husband Hamid (Luk Piyes), the incredibly naive Catherine (a wide-eyed Cheyenne Rushing) is raped by a neighbor. Her evil father-in-law presses adultery charges against her, and in the blink of an eye, she’s cast into a horrendous prison, stripped to the waist and lashed. Her rich Texas relatives like aunt Jean (Susannah York) play their best diplomacy cards, but when Catherine does exactly the thing her lawyer (Mahmoud Milani) warns her not to do, her one-year sentence is changed to death by stoning.
Wandering in and out of the tale is Iranian human rights activist Sarah Azimi (solid Turkish actress Ozay Fecht, justifiably wearing a pained expression throughout) whose play “The Stoning” is rocking London. Devices like this confuse the viewer into wondering just how much of the film is real. The answer is very little, since Amnesty Intl. has reported sentences of stoning in Iran but no verifiable executions since 2003. (Capital punishment for women is well documented, however, by Iranian filmmakers.)
Even if producer-director Holzenleiter is allowed some artistic licence on this count, there’s no excuse for his script’s downward spiral into a B actioner. It’s subpar TV when overdressed Iranian commandos led by Hamid burst into a Berlin hotel and, after killing a few employees at random, proceed to kidnap Hamid’s father and other international notables with the goal of getting Catherine released. As the film makes less and less sense, so the audience’s concern over cruel and inhuman torture wanes.
Tech work, lead by Gunter Neumann’s atmospheric HD24p lensing, is pro.