*SPOILERS* I had read the book back in the 90's, and just recently got around to watching the film. While the book is riveting and suspenseful, the movie missed a lot of opportunities to be a truly great film adaptation.
The movie starts out right by employing two great actors - Sally Field and Alfred Molina - as its two leads. But they aren't fully utilized as they should be. Their talents are limited by a sub-par script and direction. Moody is portrayed in the beginning as a kind, sympathetic character. Then all of a sudden he does a complete 180 and becomes a controlling, abusive husband. Alfred Molina is equally good at portraying both good and bad guys, but the film doesn't give him the chance to portray why Moody went from one extreme to another. I found it unbelievable that a man who spent 20 years in the U.S., living a Western lifestyle and being a kind and gracious husband and father, all of a sudden gets "brainwashed" by an ultra-fundamentalist Muslim culture. The movie could have explored his motives a bit more, or at least made him a bit shady in the beginning instead of so nice and well-adjusted.
Betty's character is also not fully explored as it should be. Other than being controlled by her husband and being forced to wear a chador, we don't see any other hardships she had to endure. In the book, there is a harrowing scene in which Betty had to remove an IUD birth control device herself in the bathroom, since she didn't want to risk death by being caught using contraceptives, which are illegal in Iran. This important part of Betty's experience represented the extremes she went through to protect herself. Unfortunately, it is left out of the film. Also, the film jumps from Betty doing everything she can to go against Moody's wishes to being a dutiful Muslim wife after some time had lapsed. I would have loved to see the film portray the actual process of Betty integrating into Iranian life as a way to gain her husband's trust so she can escape.
Another aspect of the book that I wished was emphasized more was Betty's struggle to leave Iran with her daughter. She was able to find many people who would smuggle her out of the country, but had a difficult time finding those who will smuggle her daughter as well. This is where the title comes from. In the movie, she just happens to stumble across a man who can get both her and her daughter out of Iran. The movie missed the opportunity to show Betty's struggle and proactiveness in finding a way to leave with her daughter.
To top it all off, the final escape sequence isn't as suspenseful as it should be. I didn't get the overwhelming sense that Betty and Mahtob were in danger, or that they may not make it. Once again, another missed opportunity.
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