Picks and Pans Review: Not Without My Daughter

updated 02/04/1991 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/04/1991 AT 01:00 AM EST

Sally Field, Alfred Molina

Recent events have given this U.S. vs. Middle East. Christianity vs. Islam story a boost, but it would have been a strong, emotionally involving story in any case.

It is based on a book by Betty Mahmoody, a Michigan woman who married and had a child with an Iranian doctor practicing in the U.S. After the Ayatollah Khomeini's Islamic revolution overthrew the Shah, the Muslim doctor got restless to return to his native country and eventually talked his Christian wife into making what she thought was a visit to Iran in 1984.

Once there and subjected to the thrall of his fundamentalist Islamic family, however, the doctor insisted on staying—with his daughter, whether his wife stayed or not. Adapted by David W. Rintels and directed by Brian (Vice Versa) Gilbert, the film centers on the wife and daughter—Field and 6-year-old Sheila Rosenthal—and their attempts to escape to the U.S. with the aid of an underground Iranian organization.

This film is certainly not going to help the marriage prospects of foreign nationals working in the U.S. But there's at least an attempt to be fair to the doctor. There are references to anti-Iranian racism in the U.S. and American cultural ethnocentrism that views anything foreign as primitive. The London-born Molina (Prick Up Your Ears) plays the husband with as much sympathy as can be extended to a man who ends up beating his wife and child.

Field is quietly expressive as a woman trapped in a society where women in general, and American women in particular, live in servitude. Rosenthal does an affecting job as a frightened 5-year-old. And Roshan (Gandhi) Seth resourcefully portrays the head of the underground.

There are unsettling moments. While Field at one point threatens to turn in Molina to the Iranian police for operating an illegal clinic, exactly how it's illegal is never explained. And there's a heavy Israeli involvement in the movie; much of the crew is Israeli and most of the film was shot in Israel, where things Islamic are not always kept in perspective. So the propagandistic aspects are suspect.

The crux of the story, though, remains a parent's attempts to keep her child, and Field plausibly conveys Mahmoody's resources—prominent among them, her shrewdness and courage—in her resolve to get herself and her daughter home to the U.S. If you don't necessarily learn a lot about Iran or Islam from this movie, you do learn something about how fierce a mother's determination can be. (PG-13)

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