The most interesting thing about the movie “Rosewater” is it was written and directed by Jon Stewart.
The comedian and satirist took a sabbatical from “The Daily Show” to do his first work behind the camera as the film’s writer/director.
Stewart defies expectations here by delivering a harrowing drama based on the true story of a journalist unjustly imprisoned in Iran while covering the Green Movement protests in 2009.
Stewart actually played an unwitting part in this real-life drama as Canadian-Iranian journalist Maziar Bahari made an appearance on “The Daily Show” that was used as “evidence” to justify his imprisonment.
Bahari is played by the excellent Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal, who does Stewart a big favor by carrying this movie on his lithe shoulders.
Most of the torment Bahari endures is psychological, which doesn’t always translate well to the screen. Bernal spends most of the movie either in solitary confinement or in blindfolded interrogation at the hands of his “handler” (played by Kim Bodnia).
We’ve seen “guy in prison struggles to keep his will from being broken” about a million times on screen (and it’s still tough to top Steve McQueen and his baseball in “The Great Escape”), so it’s not surprising it is during these stretches when the movie sags and drags.
Where Stewart shows his promise as a director is outside the prison walls in the streets of Iran (the movie was filmed in Jordan, which always works as a nice double for the strict Middle Eastern nation).
Stewart shows he has a good eye as he constructs some compelling shots during the protest scenes and there are a few nifty moments where he graphically shows how the wired-in population freely communicates with one another.
The bigger point Stewart is trying to make with “Rosewater” is that new media and new technologies are the toothpaste the oppressive regimes of the world are futilely attempting to put back into the proverbial tube.
Since Stewart is first and foremost a comedian, he can’t help but find some lighthearted moments in what is an otherwise grim subject. The laughs mostly come from the dark absurdity of the situation and in the moments where Bahari gains the upper hand by clearly being smarter than his captors.
When all is said and done, there’s just not much here to sink your teeth into. “Rosewater” is a decent enough film, but one that doesn’t really tell us anything that we didn’t already know.
Stewart proves he has the chops to be a solid movie maker, but I’m not sure if that is enough. He is one of the all-time greats as a commentator and media watchdog, which is a rare and much-needed talent. We’ve got plenty of average to above-average directors out there, so please Jon Stewart, don’t quit your day job.
“Rosewater” is rated R for language, including some crude references, and violent content.