I'm not entirely sure how to classify Infidel. It's kind of a faith-based film, although one with far less emphasis on preaching than most pictures from that genre. It's also a hostage drama and, in the big finale, an action movie. Balancing all three of those things proves tricky, as it occasionally seems to jerk from one to the other a bit abruptly. At the same time, the core premise is interesting and the performances are excellent. This is one of those movies that I wouldn't necessarily recommend as a first choice, but might suggest taking a chance on after you've already seen the best releases out there right now.
Jim Caviezel plays Doug Rawlins, an American blogger who writes about faith. He's invited to a speaking engagement in Cairo. Wife Liz (Claudia Karvan) encourages him not to rock by the boat by preaching Christianity in the heavily Muslim country. Of course, he does. Members of the Iranian regime subsequently kidnap him. They essentially want him to denounce his religion or face bogus charges of spying. Meanwhile, Liz – a State Department official – works to get Doug released. She even travels to the Middle East to make this happen, discovering in the process that there's an Underground Railroad system set up, run primarily by Christian women, to help people escape.
By far, the strong suit of Infidel is the quality of its performances. Jim Caviezel is very good as Doug. Christians in movies with a faith-based angle are often portrayed as sanctimonious. The actor avoids that trap, playing his character as a normal guy who just happens to have his beliefs at the center of his life. Scenes of Doug reacting to the horrors of being kidnapped – and trying to find a way to outwit his captors – are also handled effectively by Caviezel.
The real star here, though, is Karvan (True History of the Kelly Gang). One of the most annoying cliches in modern cinema is the thinly-developed “worried wife back home” – the faithful wife who gets nothing to do except fret. Karvan jumps right over that pitfall. Through her carefully nuanced turn, she makes Liz someone who's going to get right into the thick of things to save her husband. The actress brings true never-say-die determination to the character, while still conveying the stomach-knotting fear she has inside.
Several of the sequences in which Doug is tormented by his captors have legitimate tension, and there's no denying the movie's inspiration – real people still being held in Iran – is admirable. Despite those factors, Infidel stumbles a bit in its storytelling. Writer/director Cyrus Nowrasteh (The Stoning of Soraya M.) makes some odd decisions. Early scenes in the movie focus on the daughter of Doug's Muslim friend disappearing. That whole subplot is dropped, then brought back awkwardly in the last act. More detail should be provided on the Underground Railroad-esque operation, too, as that's the most fascinating aspect of the film. We don't really know much about the people who keep stepping forward to assist Liz. The biggest gaffe, however, is the action-packed ending that's out of place with everything that has come before. A bit with a hand grenade, in particular, feels like a forced attempt at creating a thrill.
Infidel ends up being a mixed affair. Plenty to admire can be found in the film, yet the flaws prove frustrating in how they undermine the strengths. There's a potentially powerful story here about American citizens unjustly held captive in places like Iran. Nowrasteh doesn't quite find it.
out of four
Infidel is rated R for violence and language. The running time is 1 hour and 47 minutes.