The familiar underdog archetype of sports movies is not lost within The Iran Job. The documentary, directed by Till Schauder, follows an American basketball player, Kevin Sheppard, to Iran’s Super League where his team is both the newest and youngest in the league. They must make the playoffs or the American will be shipped home.
But by halfway through the movie, whether they make it or not has little consequence to your feelings about the film. While the basketball thread may carry the plot, Sheppard’s relationships with those he meets while living in Iran substantiate the film. He is less of a basketball player than he is a bridge between cultures, genders and political parties.
Being the most likeable person on the planet might help Sheppard in that area. Many are drawn to Sheppard’s infectious charm and humor during his stay in Iran. In particular, his friendship with three women reveals the struggles and attitudes of the Iranian people. His physical therapist Hilda and her two friends support him at his games (until women are banned from attending) but Sheppard also supports them as they discuss their frustration with their government and its oppressive laws targeting women.
The portrayal of Iran provided by the media and various politicians in video clips throughout the movie harshly juxtaposes these personal relationships. In one scene President Bush warns Americans against the ever familiar “axis of evil” from the TV screen, in the next Sheppard gives relationship advice to his teammates or bonds with a store owner over their shared love of Bob Marley.
Calling himself “the journeyman,” Sheppard has played basketball around the world, including China and Israel. His brave pursuit to find common ground and friendship within a foreign context is a testament to the power of connecting with, and understanding, the “other.” The Iran Job will not only have you empathizing with those you’ve been told are your enemies, but remind you that something as seemingly insignificant as basketball can build a bridge across cultures.