Directed by Wayne Blair
Starring Adrien Brody, Salma Hayek, Shohreh Aghdashloo
Released on 18th July 2016
It’s been a long time since Adrien Brody won his Oscar for The Pianist. And I’m not just talking about time – although it’s 13 years ago – but about his roles since then. He exemplifies the curse of the Oscar, an actor whose choice of films since winning The Big One (and beating Oscar veterans and favourites like Michael Caine and Jack Nicholson into the bargain) has been remarkable for its mediocrity, with the exception of his two movies for Wes Anderson.
I’d love to be able to say his latest, Septembers of Shiraz, marks an upturn, but I can’t. I’ve not read the autobiographical novel that inspired it, but I’ll be kind and say I can only assume it’s better than its translation to the screen. It’s set in 1979 Tehran, with the Iranian revolution throwing the country into turmoil. At the centre of the story are Jewish couple, Isaac (Brody) and his wife Farnez (Salma Hayek), affluent but socially conscious people. Nonetheless, Isaac is arrested by the revolutionary guard, accused of spying and links with the Shah, interrogated, tortured and threatened with execution. His wife, in the meantime, tries to find out where he is and keep the family together until she learns his fate.
The film made its first appearance at last year’s Toronto Film Festival – it was given a gala presentation – and was released in American cinemas last month, but over here it’s straight to DVD and that’s probably where it belongs. There are so many reasons why that I’ll try to be brief. Let’s start with the director, one Wayne Blair, whose past work is almost entirely for TV – nothing wrong with that – but who seems to have so little empathy with the subject matter that it’s no surprise his next project is listed as a TV version of Dirty Dancing. He and screenwriter Hanna Weg have turned Brody and Hayek into generic political refugees, people who don’t actually engage each other or anybody else but spout lines. And, in an attempt to compensate for the shortcomings of both script and characterisation, they over-act something rotten.
Sadly, there’s more. It’s a mish-mash of Argo and Rosewater, both set at much the same time and both much better films, Argo in particular. The interrogation scenes echo Rosewater in that Brody never sees his inquisitor’s face, only this time it’s hidden behind a mask. And the last half hour is almost a carbon copy of Argo in its structure: as Brody and Hayek attempt to escape Iran, a piece of evidence which could destroy them falls into the hands of the revolutionary guard. But it’s all a damp squib. You wish for the tension of the final flight in Ben Affleck’s Oscar winner: what you get is an ending that just makes you sigh with relief that the film is over.
Worst of all – if that list wasn’t bad enough – it’s all terribly superficial, with attempts and political and moral debate which are clumsy, monochrome, unrealistic and unconvincing.
But, between you and me, you know from the start you’re on a hiding to nothing. The opening piece of music, to go with a family party, is The Bee Gees’ Stayin’ Alive. Subtle it ain’t.
Septembers Of Shiraz is released on DVD today and reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 21 July.