Just a quick note about how I review films each month: I screen many films that will be released after the first of the month, and I choose one of the best films I’ve seen. I stick to films from the Landmark theaters and the Sie Film Center, but occasionally I view films that will play in the multiplex as well. I do not publish negative reviews because I feel it would be a waste of your time. Please be sure to check out the Facebook page (“Indie Prof”) for mid-month updates of more films and film events around the city. Thank you for reading!
The Iran Job (2012)
We all act differently when there is camera on us. The only exception might be the first “true” documentaries, made by filmmakers in the early ’60s when handheld cameras were first invented. The seminal documentary Primary is one such film, and as it follows Hubert Humphrey and John F. Kennedy campaigning in the 1960 Democratic primary, nobody knows how to act in front of a camera since they’d never seen such a documentary before. Everyone knows how to act now.
The Iran Job is a documentary about basketball player Kevin Sheppard, a U.S. Virgin Islands native who accepts a job to play for a professional basketball team in Iran. He makes the journey by himself, without his reticent girlfriend and family, and he is initially unsure of the deal. He decides to go despite warnings from family and friends, and the film charts his journey—cutting between his life off the court and the action on the court. While this is an interesting film, I will not call it a “great” film; but it does give us a peek into a world we rarely get to see, and therein lies the fascination. It is certainly worth a viewing.
There are political overtones throughout the film, but it sells that storyline short and keeps returning to the action on the court, tamping down any possible controversy. The story of the team is interesting, but not in the Hoop Dreams sort of way; it is more the story of one person and how his team will fare, which, by the way, is a very American way of telling a story. And that is the major issue here: it is an American story in a foreign land. We don’t get a true pulse of the people or their politics. We get a sense they are acting for the cameras, Kevin included. When he meets an Iranian woman in whom he is obviously interested, the story makes its way back to the basketball. What did we miss? Although it seems harmless, why do we feel dirty and voyeuristic when he speaks to his girlfriend back home? The answer: because we know more than we should.
Opens June 7 at the Sie Film Center. You will like this film if you enjoyed: Hoop Dreams, 42 or Hoosiers.
You’ll want to put the kids to bed before this one.
Few films, if any, have ever reminded me of Taxi Driver (1978—directed by Martin Scorsese), but Drive (2011—directed by Nicholas Winding Refn) is one of them. It tells the story of a Hollywood stunt driver (Ryan Gosling as The Driver) who moonlights as a getaway driver for robbers. He befriends a harried, dew-eyed mom neighbor (Carey Mulligan as Irene), and we think the ne’er do-well will change his ways, go completely straight, and the film will blossom into a beautiful love story. Think again. The Driver agrees to do a job for Irene’s recently-released-from-prison-husband, and of course, things don’t go so well. But the ride is exhilarating!
This is a complex film with a simple plot, masterfully directed by Danish director Nicholas Winding Refn (The Pusher trilogy) who is known for his realism, violence, and hyper-masculinity. All three are present here. The cast is stellar, including Gosling, Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, and Golden Globe-nominee Albert Brooks in a supporting role. The cinematography is superb—echoing late ’60s and ’70s B-movies, the editing is crisp, and the soundtrack is particularly inspired.
The film has moments of serenity and beauty punctuated by moments of extreme violence when we least expect them. It is such a pleasure to watch a film and not know what to expect. It was nominated for various awards after its release but snubbed by the Oscars. The Academy tends to do that to films released on an Independent label (see: Requiem for a Dream). It is a film that requires a bit of interaction from the viewer, but you are rewarded for it. I think it was one of the best films of 2011 and one of the better films of the past several years.
Available on the Netflix instant stream and on DVD in the library. You will like this film if you enjoyed Taxi Driver, Bullitt or The Pusher Trilogy.
Please look for my DVD reviews in the Sam Gary Library under the “Staff Choices” section.
Stapleton resident Vincent Piturro, PhD, teaches Cinema Studies at Metropolitan State University of Denver. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.