DVD Review - Rosewater

I'm wondering if Jon Stewart made this film more out of guilt than anything else. This film is an adaptation of the memoir by Maziar Bahari who was arrested in Iran during the summer of 2009, held in solitary confinement for about four months and tortured to a degree. The reason he was arrested is because the Iranian government thought Bahari was a spy and the reason the government thought he was a spy was because Bahari joked about being a spy for a segment on Jon Stewart's The Daily Show. I don't think Bahari blames Stewart for his imprisonment, but there is a corollary and for Stewart the opportunity to make this movie seems like a mea culpa that goes beyond what he could do on his Comedy Central series.

I feel like Stewart might feel some responsibility or guilt due to the level of seriousness here. Given Stewart's sensibilities, one would assume he would direct a comedy or more of a satire. There is some humor present here, but this film is mainly a straight-forward docudrama that's mainly about the Iranian presidential election and the paranoid politics thereafter. What I would have hoped that instead of depicting all of this in an earnest or non-ironic way, Stewart would have poked more fun at it, not rising to the heights of Mel Brooks but something along the lines of Stewart's usual sarcasm and snark.

Gael García Bernal (Y Tu Mamá También and Amores Perros) stars as Maziar Bahari, a journalist who works for Newsweek magazine. He leaves his pregnant wife in London to return to Tehran, the city in his home country of Iran to cover the presidential elections. He has friends and family there, particularly his mother. He decides to stay in Iran after the election when protests arise, suggesting that the election was rigged. Maziar is his own cameraman and he captures some horrifying backlash against the protestors, as he clearly sympathizes with them.

Nearly half the movie is about walking through the political landscape of Iran in the run-up to the election. Then, all of that is abandoned when Maziar is arrested and put into solitary confinement. The movie becomes all about his endurance of this confinement and the endless interrogations. His interrogators think him a spy but he's not, so it's a lot of going around and around until his inevitable release. As such, the film is rather boring. Going into the movie, Stewart had to know that's all it was going to be.

Therefore, in order to make it more entertaining, Stewart had to bring one of two things. Either he brings something dynamic visually or cinematic-wise or he brings humor or great comedy. Stewart brings dabs of each but doesn't go far enough. In some ways, his hands were tied. The first way is that in real life Bahari's imprisonment was horrible, but it wasn't Abu Ghraib or like the opening scenes of Zero Dark Thirty, so Stewart's film could never be shocking that way, not unless he invented things for the fictionalized Maziar or focused on another prisoner.

There is inherent humor in this story. The humor at times is such that this film could have been a version of Four Lions (2010). Much in the way that Christopher Morris mocked the stupidity of the terrorists, Stewart could have mocked the stupidity of Bahari's interrogators and his captors. He does in subtle moments, but it's weighed down by the self-seriousness of the rest of it.

There are good gags like the main interrogator thinking all magazines and movies are porn, as well as having a weird fascination with massage stories. There's also the interrogator's absolute ignorance when it comes to how the CIA works or how spies operate. All of it is ripe for satire but Stewart never goes for it.

Two Stars out of Five.
Rated R for language including some crude references, and violent content.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 43 mins.


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