Made in Italy by Italians, but with an international cast topped by Harvey Keitel,
The Stone Merchant is a "cautionary tale" about Islamofascism. The
message is that the West should stay on constant vigil against Islamic
terrorism, because 9/11 is only the beginning of the spectacularly
violent acts planned against the non-Muslim world.
Jordi Molla plays an Italian professor who studies radical Islam,
and he has lost both of his legs to a terrorist attack on the American
embassy in Nairobi. As the film begins, his wife (Jane March) narrowly
escapes a terrorist attack on the Rome airport, and is so severely
traumatized that the professor takes her on a a vacation. In a case
like this, where your you take your wife to kick back? Maybe hiking in
Utah? Sunning and boozing it up in Acupulco or Perth? Someplace where
the two of you can forget all about Islamic militancy? That's you.
This professor decides to take his wife to Turkey, where they drive
through remote locales until their car breaks down and they are
obvious Christian tourists stranded amongst ... well, I think you can
probably figure it out.
Harvey Keitel plays an Italian who sells precious gems in a
touristy section of Turkey, and the couple gravitates to him. In fact,
Jane does quite a bit of gravitating, in some ways not originally
envisioned by Isaac Newton. It goes without saying that Keitel is a
secret convert to Islam, and is using his connections and wealth to
further the aims of terrorists in Europe. His seduction of the
professor's wife has some murky relationship to his plan to explode a
dirty bomb on a ferry in the Dover harbor, an act which he pulls off
successfully and which basically ends the story except for a brief
epilogue which involves some heavy-handed comments by the professor to
his class, thus giving the screenwriter a chance to speak his own
summary judgment through the professor's mouth. As you can imagine,
given that the lecturer has now lost both his legs and his wife to
terrorist attacks, his overview is not positive. He delivers his spiel
and the film ends.
Pretty cheery movie, eh?
The point of the film may or may not be correct, but whether you
agree or not, the film's execution doesn't justify your devoting any
time to it. The film is completely cardboard and one-sided, and the
script is so paranoid and so inartistic that it could have been
written by Dick Cheney in his underground lair. Salieri plays the
slimy, oily head of the militants, and the character is portrayed
without any complexity as a single-minded obsessive. He might as well
be a moustache-twirling landlord who's tying our heroine to a log in
the sawmill, or perhaps more appropriately, a scheming, murderous,
scimitar-wielding villain from an Arabian Nights tale, except that
this evildoer is accessorized by a Koran and high tech weapons.
Keitel's character, being torn as he was between his duty to God and
the genuine love he came to feel for the woman he once seduced
callously, might have allowed the film to create a more balanced look
at the cultural conflict which has gripped the world, but the only
humanity Keitel showed was his regret that his masters in the
terrorist organization wouldn't let him die on the ferry with the
woman he loved. A couple of seedy-looking thugs dragged him away
before the ship could sail. I'm not sure why, since they killed him
To tell you the truth, I'm not even sure why the plotters needed
Keitel to seduce Jane March at all, because ol' Salieri himself was
actually on the ferry, and he ended up exploding the bomb with a
radio-controlled device. I suppose that March was theoretically needed
to provide an unsuspicious non-Arab to drive the explosive-laden car
onto the ferry, but that explanation holds no water. Keitel was an
elderly Italian, ostensibly a Christian, presumably above suspicion,
and he was to die anyway, so why not just have him drive the car? Why
did the schemers need March in the first place? She just added another
element which might have gone wrong at the last minute.
Given the lack of nuance, the one-sided portrayal of Arabs, the
lapses in the film's logic, and the tacked-on love story which seems
totally inappropriate in context, you're going to have to struggle to
find any good reason to spend your time on this film - even if you are
a strong Dick Cheney supporter and a die-hard Harvey Keitel fan. It
would be possible to make a good film with a similar message, but it
would have to be more thoughtful and complex than this one. It is
possible to make good liberal sermons and good conservative sermons,
but it is also possible to make bad ones on each side of the aisle,
and this falls into the bad group.
The IMDb score of 6.2 does indicate that the movie has an audience.
It elicits comments ranging from strong admiration to even more
passionate contempt, as you might expect from a propaganda film with
such a controversial viewpoint. I don't really see where the
supporters of the film have much of a case for recommending it, other
than that they basically just happen to agree with its paranoid
sermon, and think that the film expresses their own fears in a
suitably dramatic fashion.