By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)
The shocking true story, that inspired Jon Stewart’s directorial debut, sounds so absurd that one could easily think someone concocted it for a Daily Show comedy sketch. As absurd as the circumstances surrounding the abduction of journalist Maziar Bahari sound, they are factual. Bahari and his loved ones may be able to laugh upon reflection, but will never forget the fright they experienced during his 118 day imprisonment in Iran. Ignorance and stupidity in the world often provide Jon Stewart and the Daily Show writers plenty of fodder for laughs, but for Maziar Bahari and his family, friends, and colleagues, these human weaknesses caused much trepidation and despair. Stewart’s movie Rosewater does a fine job of recounting these events and still manages to mix in the humorous aspects effectively.
In 2009 while covering the presidential elections in Iran, Newsweek reporter Maziar Bahari (Gael Garcia Bernal) decides to do a comedic interview with a Daily Show correspondent claiming to be an American spy. After Iranian authorities view said interview, they proceed to detain Bahari for questioning and hold him prisoner for nearly four months. During his imprisonment, he is brutally tortured and interrogated by an unknown authority (Kim Bodnia) who smells of rosewater. Bahari smartly uses the ignorance and stupidity of his abductors against them to keep them on their toes and more willing to strike up some kind of release deal. Until then though, Bahari and his family and friends do what they can via media coverage to put pressure on the Iranian government.
Based on Bahari’s book, Then They Came For Me, Jon Stewart wrote the screenplay and directed this important film that will help raise awareness of the disturbing practices by Iranian government officials. Considering that this is his first movie, Stewart proves himself capable of directing, but does need to further develop his style of film writing and directing. Should he continue to make movies, he could possibly improve his craft with subsequent films. Though a compelling story, Rosewater does have its bland and flat moments. Some sequences meant to compel and frighten audiences fail to do so while others hit their marks beautifully. The entire experience is a bit inconsistent, but Stewart definitely has the potential to do extraordinary work. When it comes to humor, Stewart is obviously adept and his superb application of this talent to this movie elevates what could have been a completely dull film to something worthy of viewing.
Stewart does show that he can work well with a cast, as the actors all perform stunningly. Gael Garcia Bernal performs exceptionally as Bahari by recreating his passion for his news work, his intelligence and his charming sense of humor. After the Austin Film Festival screening, the audience got a glimpse of his sense of humor during the funny and playful Q&A with Jon Stewart. He did acknowledge the traumatic impact that his imprisonment had on his life and work, but is now able to joke about the funny side of it all.
Had Stewart done better in presenting the darker side of the coin, this movie would’ve had a more powerful impact on me. The film does have its tense moments, but feels a tad watered down considering what is at stake. I do admire Jon Stewart for making this movie to show his support of Maziar Bahari and for helping to spread his story to more people. It is a very important film that people should most definitely support so that Stewart can go on to tell other stories of great importance. With more movie making experience, Jon Stewart could quite possibly have a new successful career ahead.