[Screen It]


(2020) (Jim Caviezel, Claudia Karvan) (R)

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Dramatic Thriller: A State Department employee travels to Iran in hopes of getting her kidnapped Christian blogger husband freed from Iran.

Doug Rawlins (JIM CAVIEZEL) works for a software company in the D.C. suburbs and is married to Liz (CLAUDIA KARVAN) who works at the U.S. State Department. Due to a past accident that claimed the life of their unborn child, Liz has abandoned all religious faith, unlike Doug who continues to be a Christian blogger on the side and accepts his Muslim coworker, Javid (ALY KASSEM), as his close friend. But when Javid's wife reports that their teenage daughter has disappeared, Liz calls 911 for them and soon the police discover fairly clear evidence that Javid has been covertly operating as a terrorist recruiter.

He disappears and despite warnings from Liz not to go, Doug travels to Cairo, Egypt where he's going to discuss his Christian beliefs in that very Muslim country. His statements don't go over very well with the locals and he subsequently is kidnapped by several terrorists led by Ramzi (HAL OZSAN). The latter simply wants Doug to renounce what he's said along with his Christian beliefs, something the American refuses to do, resulting in him being tortured. When word gets out that he managed to send an encrypted message back to Liz, he's moved from his current position to Iran.

Getting word of that, Liz travels there and meets foreign reporters Pierre (STELIO SAVANTE) and Maria (ISABELLE ADRIANI) who want to help, but Liz is now wary of everyone, although she's ultimately rescued from a bad situation by a small group of underground Christians. As she tries to figure out a way to help free Doug, he must contend with repeated efforts by the terrorists to make him abandon his faith, including trying him as a foreign spy, a charge that could lead to his execution if found guilty.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10

Back in 2004, actor Jim Caviezel played a man tortured and ultimately killed for his religious beliefs. That movie, of course, was "The Passion of The Christ" and the performer now returns to similar subject matter in "Infidel." And we know right from the get-go that his character is similarly being persecuted as he stands in front of a firing squad and won't renounce his faith to his tormentor. The execution order is given and just as we hear the shots, the film rewinds six months.

We then learn that this man is American Doug Rawlins who's employed by a government contractor software company but is best known for being a Christian blogger. While he doesn't believe that non-Christian religions are correct in their portrayal of God and all related matters, he's accepting of others, including his Muslim coworker and friend, Javid (Aly Kassem), who enjoys playfully referring to Doug as "infidel" but invites him and his wife, Liz (Claudia Karvan), to his daughter's high school graduation party.

But when that teen goes missing, Liz calls 911 for the family and the cops soon discover that Javid is actually a terrorist recruiter working in the D.C. suburbs. After that intriguing opening, this "inspired by true events" film -- written and directed by Cyrus Nowrasteh ("The Young Messiah," "The Stoning of Soraya M.") -- stumbles through the next part of the storyline that feels half-baked.

Seemingly (but unconvincingly) having put that shocking revelation about his friend behind him, Doug plans to travel to Cairo, Egypt to attend a conference where he intends to talk about his religion. That doesn't sit well with Liz for a number of reasons.

First off, she's employed by the State Department and knows that such talk in the heavily Muslim country is fraught with potential peril. Secondly, she knows Doug won't hold back in stating his beliefs, even if they offend others. And finally, she lost her faith in the past, something we see in a flashback to a car accident that took the life of her unborn baby and her last chance to have a child.

Back in the present, she pleads for Doug not to go, but he does so anyway. It's a fairly jerky thing for him to do, but I guess we're supposed to see that as a sign of his unwavering faith that he must put above anything and everything else in his life. Yes, this is a faith-based film (and comes from a new production company headed by former Pure Flix execs), but it's not of your usual clean content variety as we're about to see.

For once Doug states his beliefs and offends everyone in Cairo, lead villain Ramzi (Hal Ozsan) and his henchmen kidnap Doug, torture him, and drop a load of F-bombs along the way, including one of the sexual variety as related to the potential after-effects of some threatened torture to a certain part of the male anatomy.

That content aside, this is where the film works best, with Ozsan creating a charismatic but scary abductor while Karvan creates a credible character who sets out on a rescue mission, thankfully without going into full action heroine mode. Alas, the flick does end with an action finale that feels forced and isn't executed that well.

So, in the end, we have something of a mixed bag by the time the end credits begin to roll. I'm glad the flick didn't get too overtly preachy (such material and messaging is obviously present, it just isn't used in a hit you over the head manner) and certain parts and performances work quite well.

But other moments feel rough or not fleshed out enough. That includes how the main characters' relationship works with their decidedly different views of religion as well as an underground movement in Iran of Christians who help Liz on her rescue mission but otherwise are nothing more than convenient story elements.

With more work on such matters, this could have been a riveting political-religious thriller. As it stands, it's okay, but often feels like just a continuation of Caviezel's on-screen religious persecution. "Infidel" rates as a 5 out of 10.

Reviewed September 14, 2020 / Posted September 18, 2020

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