Though it seems intended to evoke a political thriller, the title of this documentary about journeyman basketball player Kevin Sheppard's time plying his trade in Iran actually suits the film perfectly. That's because the story told by The Iran Job gradually becomes one of acquired sociopolitical awareness in a time and place that demands it of both citizens and visitors.
Although talented, Sheppard didn't quite have what it takes to play at the highest professional level in the U.S., so his basketball career took him to China, Brazil, Israel and, finally, Iran. He departed for the troubled Islamic nation over the protests of family and friends concerned for his safety. What Sheppard found, at least initially, was "the worst basketball I'd ever seen in my life." Named captain of a very young startup professional team, he finds himself with the difficult task of helping coach the ragtag crew despite an intractable language barrier. Can the team make the playoffs as required by the owner who's paying Sheppard double the usual rate? The film weaves together a compelling sports story with a larger tale of cultural turmoil and transition to entertaining effect.
Sheppard's real journey begins when he befriends a woman working in the physical therapy clinic he visits following a minor injury. She and two of her friends defy Iranian law by visiting Sheppard and his roommate at their apartment, and they repeatedly take that risk just to engage in another illicit activity: open conversation about their lives. Shot mostly in 2009, the film is set amid the rise of the reformist Green Movement in Iran, which helped inspire sweeping changes in the Middle East in the form of the Arab Spring. The three women make those larger struggles personal, transforming The Iran Job into an important document in an era where there's always someone beating the drum for another war. — KEN KORMAN