The America-Right has complained for decades that there’s an extreme lack in conservative art coming out of the entertainment industry. As Andrew Brietbart famously was quoted saying, “Politics is down stream of culture.” The side of the aisle that controls news, school, comedy, TV, film, music and literature is the side of the aisle that’s going to win elections in the long-run. The right-wing has tried to pivot into a position where it can produce culturally significant art in the past decade but the few attempts have resulted in poorly received independent films that barely make their money back at the box office. Outside of rare cultural touchstones like The Passion of the Christ and American Sniper, there really haven’t been any successful attempts at conservative culture jamming.
This has been a problem Dinesh D’Souza’s media company has been attempting to resolve since 2012 with a series of highly financially successful (and critically panned) documentaries hosted by D’Souza himself with the assistance of director/producer John Sullivan (Gosnell, Unplanned). Up until now, his venture has mostly focused on releasing these films during election years to help galvanize Republican Voters. Up until now, he hadn’t ventured into fictional stories. His newest theatrical release Infidel however is his company’s first attempt as a fictional story.
The film comes to us from Persian-American director Cyrus Nowrasteh, late of other infamous conservative cult-projects like The Path to 9/11, The Stoning of Soraya M and The Young Messiah. Given those films, it’s not hard to guess where his political and religious impulses as a filmmaker lie. The movie is very much a successful “Christian” film. By that, I mean they’ve successfully produced a thematically incoherent and bullheaded thriller that doesn’t really know what it’s saying and says all of the things it wants to say loudly in politically incorrect ways to make liberals mad. For a movie that’s trying to be edgy and say something nominally brave about the role radical Islam plays in modern politics, it really ends up saying very little.
Let’s cut to brass tax. Infidel isn’t a great film. It’s not bad because the film because of it’s subject matter though. It’s bad for the same reason all nominally “Christian” films are bad. It doesn’t focus and it goes out of it’s way to make it’s characters antagonistic and inconsistent. The main story follows a Christian blogger who is invited to speak on Egyptian TV who is then kidnapped by terrorists after trying to preach about Christ on Muslim television. For this, he’s dragged to Iran where he’s accused of being a spy and sentenced to death. The movie is tacitly an exploration of radical Islam and the totalitarian theocracy of countries like Iran. The movie’s dedication would suggest that it’s primarily trying to draw attention to Iran’s religious liberty abuses and it’s detainment of foreign citizens. This doesn’t work because it jumps between themes and character motivations with abandon and doesn’t really have the bravery to SAY one conclusive thing about any of the topics it explores.
The movie starts on an extremely dark note implying that the movie is going to end with it’s lead character being martyred for refusing to convert to Islam. That… isn’t actually what the movie is about. It’s charts multiple subplots and doesn’t really resolve any of them. There’s a story about one character’s loss of faith after the trauma of losing a child during pregnancy in an accident. There’s another story about one character’s inability to not take chances to preach God’s word (even in settings were tact and mutual respect might be more useful). The main narrative is mostly about the Middle-East’s fear of imperial interference from foreign governments and how countries like Iran fund terror groups like Hezbollah to serve as their shock troops to keep their fundamentalist takes on Islam from being questioned in their own countries. The stories don’t really resolve one another though.
All of these ideas clash with one another and drain whatever focus the movie’s story is supposed to have. Ideally, such a story would focus on how it’s main character’s faith journey is affected. Nominally, Infidel is supposed to be focusing on it’s story about how a prominent Christian blogger is kidnapped by terrorists and threatened to convert. This doesn’t end up happening though because we find out almost immediately that the terrorists don’t care about his faith. They’re just mad at him for proselytizing Christianity on Egyptian television and they think he’s an American spy because his wife works for the CIA. In the grand scheme of things, that’s not much of a stretch. She does in fact work for the CIA and it’s implied that he has government clearance through his day job at as software company.
In that sense, this doesn’t even work as a “Christian” movie at all. There’s WAY too much swearing for one to be taken seriously by the genteel Pureflix audience. That problem aside, the movie doesn’t really seem to come to a head on any of it’s major themes. Instead of being a movie about one man’s faith being dragged through the gauntlet, it turns into one man being dragged through a kangaroo court for political reasons, sentenced to death and then having to work through the trauma of saying goodbye to his wife. The movie then ends on a completely thematically inappropriate prison raid where-in Mossad agents save the day in order to keep the movie from not having a happy ending (despite the fact that the movie sells itself as a story of the cost and sacrifice in the face of radical oppression).
A story like this lives and dies by the tragedy of it’s circumstances and how the good intentions of noble men are brought down by the horror of the world and the tyranny of evil men. If you want to make a movie about how Muslim extremism is bad, MAKE THAT MOVIE AND SHOW WHY THAT’S THE CASE. Instead the movie just manipulates it’s viewer with jabs of dialog that reinforce the inhumanity of the characters we don’t like while affirming the innocence and nobility of the characters we do like. I’m not asking the film to go full Kingdom of Heaven and draw a moral equivalency between these two characters but I highly doubt any nominal Muslim wouldn’t be horribly offended by this portrayal that alternates it’s characters between Orwellian tyrants and sociopaths.
I saw Infidel in a moderately full theater (by COVID standards) and the people I went with seemed to enjoy it so I can definitely attest that there’s probably an audience of nominally conservative and religious people out there that will enjoy the film. Besides them, I can’t imagine there will be many people who find much they like in it. The movie is too intermitted, atonal and confrontational to appeal to anyone who doesn’t already agree with it’s lead character’s beliefs. When you preach to the choir, don’t be surprised when the laymen start walking out on your sermons. If conservatives want to start dominating the culture war, movies like Infidel are the last kind of film they ought to be producing.