A comedian taking on a serious film seems to be the trend this year. Michael Keaton and Steve Carrell are getting Oscar buzz for their roles in dramas “Birdman” and “Foxcatcher”, respectively, and now Jon Stewart temporarily trades in his Daily Show desk for a director’s chair with “Rosewater”.
Based on the true story, “Rosewater” tells the tale of Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari (played by Gael García Bernal) who was detained and tortured for 118 days in Iran during the 2009 presidential election. Jon Stewart produces, writes the script (based on Bahari’s novel) and directs his first major motion picture.
In a lot of ways, “Rosewater” is like “Argo”. Obvious Iran setting aside, the film, despite taking place in the past, holds a lot of views and opinions about current events. There are also some moments of black humor to ease up the serious moments, and nice integration of stock footage. However there are also a lot of reasons why “Rosewater” is not the next “Argo”.
Despite maybe not being the most obvious choice as a film debut, Stewart does a very good job on the film’s dramatic script. There are those moments of black humor, but he also almost always nails the inner-feelings of Bahari as his days in solitary confinement begin to stack up.
One of the things the film does well is giving the audience a sense of empathy towards Bahari’s interrogators. While at times it paints them as uninformed, it never makes them look out to be delirious or unintelligent, and they even make a few valid points as to why they have imprisoned Bahari (such as “the CIA was behind the 1593 Iran coup, so why not this one?”). A somewhat ironic moment was that a piece of “evidence” the interrogators used was one of Stewart’s own Daily Show interviews in which Bahari took part in, and the Iranians saw this as cooperation with “Satan America”.
Gael García Bernal gives a nimble performance as Bahari, starting off as a happy, dedicated journalist and towards the end of the film clearly beginning to break, both mentally and physically (just ignore the fact that in four months of captivity his beard doesn’t change lengths at all). However Bernal never quite seems to reach the same level of desperation as, say, Tom Hanks in “Cast Away”, and that is in part one of the film’s largest flaws.
The movie never truly builds to anything grand. Sure, we know how the story ends, but we also knew the ending to “Apollo 13” and “Captain Phillips” and those are two of the most suspenseful films of all-time (I’m sorry for all the Tom Hanks praising; I swear when I came up with all these examples the connection was not intentional). “Rosewater” is edited so it is scene after scene, and the tension that we as an audience should be feeling is not there.
“Rosewater” is a well-written, capably directed and importantly timed film that is just not as good as it could have been. Still, it was enjoyable or interesting all throughout, and stands as a nice resume builder for a man who should need no introduction to the world delivering of political and social messages.
Critics rating: 7/10