Not Without My Daughter
- Sally Field as Betty Mahmoody
- Alfred Molina as Sayed Bozorg ‘Moody’ Mahmoody
- Sheila Rosenthal as Mahtob Mahmoody
- Roshan Seth as Houssein
- Sasson Gabai as Hamid
Based on a true story, Not Without My Daughter tells of Betty Mahmoody, who managed to escape Iran with her daughter after being kept against her will by her husband. As a movie it is flawed in various aspects, but it is still a powerful movie despite being hampered by histrionic writing and a sometimes incomprehensible pace.
It is 1984, Betty Mahmoody is a loving wife to her Iranian born husband who is simply referred to as ‘Moody’ and a doting mother to five-year old daughter Mahtob. Moody is a physician and Betty a homemaker who have a comfortable life in Michigan. All this changes, when Moody wants to take Betty and Mahtob to Tehran to meet his family. Betty is very reluctant to visit Iran due to the various changes and volatility of the country. Eventually she agrees to a two-week visit to Moody’s family. Yet when it is time for the family to return to America, Moody tells Betty that he plans for the family to stay in Iran, much to Betty’s dismay. When she protests, Moody starts to become physically and emotionally violent towards her, telling her that she must obey and conform to his ways or else. Realizing that she is trapped in a culture she doesn’t understand, knowing that her daughter could be taken away from her if she tries to divorce Moody and constantly watched by Moody and his family, Betty knows that the chance for escape with her daughter is pretty slim. But Betty hasn’t given up yet and secretly she plans her dangerous escape out of Iran, after meeting Hamid, a kindly shopkeeper with connections to the humanitarian Houssein who can help her plan a secret way to leave her brutish husband and return to safety as he has helped many people in the same situation before.
Now from what I’ve read about this film and the book that inspired it, Not Without My Daughter has greatly courted controversy. The main criticisms I’ve read are that the movie doesn’t portray Islam or Iran accurately and favours a stereotypical light. I’m not exactly well-versed in either subject but I do think that this is a movie, and it is based on one person’s experience of a place. I don’t think it should be taken as stone cold fact that every aspect is like how it is depicted here. Brian Gilbert at least manages to craft many suspenseful scenes as Betty plans her escape, knowing the danger it could bring and executes them with a powerful impact. Where Not Without My Daughter flounders is with the writing and all over the place sense of time. At times the sheer terror of the situation is ruined by a ridiculous line of dialogue or a slide into melodrama. The passage of time is another problem, with scenes passing by too quickly to sometimes register what is going on. It still retains a harrowing impact, but it could have improved upon greatly and doesn’t quite present the nightmarish situation of Betty as well it could. The score provided has emotional clarity to it as well, yet over indulges it on the synthesizers at times. With all of this hampering, at least Not Without My Daughter still becomes absorbing thanks to solid direction and effective cast.
What helps elevate Not Without My Daughter is the work of the cast, in particular Sally Field. Filled with a terrified realization, a quiet determination and a maternal love, Field is marvellous at conveying the struggles Betty endures and her will to find a way to freedom. Rising above the flawed script, Sally Field makes us sympathise with this woman in a nightmarish situation who knows that the odds are against her but still won’t give up in her quest to save herself and her daughter. Alfred Molina excellently portrays the shift in character of Moody, who goes from a seemingly caring husband to domineering tyrant with an alarming and frightening intensity. Molina is also physically well cast as Moody, as his height towers with menace over the petite Field. Young Sheila Rosenthal is very good as Mahtob, who is caught in the middle of everything and who doesn’t quite understand what is going on around her. Roshan Seth and Sasson Gabai are effective as two of the people who help orchestrate Betty’s escape.
Not Without My Daughter is far from a neatly constructed movie and does fall short in various intervals, but it gains an immense impact from the committed cast and some tense direction.