"The Iran Job" Cuts Through Heavy-Handed Politics With Human Stories Review

The primary message of Till Schauder's The Iran Job is so gobsmackingly obvious, it's a wonder the film needs to exist in the first place - that the people cast as our enemies on the global stage are not machines programmed to hate, but fully matured human begins who love their lives, freedoms, and rail against injustice with much the same fervor as we do. Alas, we do not live in a perfect world, and so The Iran Job serves as a smoothly-directed reminder that life in Iran goes on, a life riddled with contradictions and upsets that we may find inexcusable, but a life all the same. Our lead into this foreign terrain is one Kevin Sheppard, a "journeyman" basketball player, perhaps not polished enough for the US but a treasure for A.S. Shiraz, the Iranian team that touts Sheppard and his seven-foot Serbian roommate as the foreign muscle that'll power the newly-formed team through to the Iranian Super League finals, an unheard of feat.

Sheppard, who travels from the Virgin Islands to Iran, commands your attention and avoids upending his personality on camera. He is boisterous, largely unassuming man not prone to out-loud introspection, though his focus on the court is immediately visible. The emotions spill out during game time, and Sheppard quickly finds that even a minor outburst that sees the American messing with a trashcan in a moment of anger is a bad show for the Iranian press. Kevin makes friends easily and the film does not spend much time setting up the clash between his expectations and the reality of Iran. Rather, it is the viewer that's likely in for a surprise - Iran, the land of contradictions, where you can buy a non-alcoholic beer in a grocery but drink freely if you know where to look, where murals of the Great Satan adorn building walls while fans cheer wildly for the American, and where some women have grown far, far too tired of being treated like children by men who need not heed their opinions and can bar them from even watching Kevin's games.

Sheppard says from the onset he's elected to stay away from politics, but it's not quite that simple - not while Hilda, Laleh and Elaheh have something to say. The female trio befriend Sheppard, taking a major risk while visiting the player at home (which touts subpar internet access while offering one hundred pornographic channels, a fact that Sheppard humorously notes, more concerned about the internet since it will make it difficult to contact his significant other back home) and their politics find a way to move the player. Meanwhile, Sheppard and his team begin to make major gains and the American becomes more than just a good player, but a rallying point for the rest of the team. Another underdog story? Yup, but with Iran as the background, its well worth watching.

The Iranian social landscape is truly fascinating and Kevin has a welcoming vibe that pulls people toward the good-natured, physically imposing man. The color of his skin comes up infrequently, but Sheppard does draw a connection between the struggle for civil rights and the unrest of the Iranian people. A few tense moments crop up, in particular one where the women are barred from attending a game. Even in a segregated environment, it is apparently going too far. Schauder keeps the artificial polemic to a minimum, instead letting the camera capture people in their habitat, inhabiting many tiny moments hinting at something greater. As Kevin's physician says in passing when Sheppard asks him why the men and women can't mix, "It's uncomfortable, but it's Islam." This is hardly meant to disparage the faith, but rather to hint at the uneasy crossroads between religion and culture, beliefs and desires, that exist inside all of us. In moments like this, The Iran Job takes on a vital role as a documentary of a culture a shade or two different from our, yet very much the same. Welcome to Iran, 2012.


"The Iran Job" opens October 12, 2012 and is not rated. Documentary. Directed by Till Schauder. Starring Kevin Sheppard.

Mark Zhuravsky • Staff Writer

I'm a prolific blogger, writer and editor who loves film.


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