Rosewater (Open Road Films, R)

film Rosewater_smRosewater is effective, if dry and forgettable.

 

 

 

film Rosewater

In his directorial debut, The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart adapted for the screen and directed Rosewater, a true story about the period in which Canadian/Iranian journalist Maziar Bahari was detained in Iran. The Iranian government suspected Bahari of being a spy, when, in fact, he was just covering the 2009 presidential election for Newsweek. They held him, in part, on account of a satirical interview he did with Stewart that some people in the Iranian government (possibly willfully) misunderstood.

Rosewater is an effective, if dry and forgettable, film. Bahari is here played by the popular Mexican actor Gael García Bernal, an odd choice in theory, but Bernal is able to pull it off without it becoming too glaring. For most people, the big draw to the film will be Stewart’s name in the credits, though, and this film neither confirms him as a talent to watch in the director’s chair, nor proves him to be a big-headed Hollywood type who thinks he can succeed at anything he does. The tone of the film is usually appropriately somber, but the occasional lapse into jokiness, or surface-level criticisms of modern-day journalism and media, don’t fit in quite like one might hope. Also, if you aren’t terribly familiar with the true story upon which this material is based (and which was previously told in Bahari’s bestselling book, Then They Came for Me: A Family’s Story of Love, Captivity, and Survival), the winky nods at a Stewart/Stephen Colbert–type character seem sort of self-serving.

Bahari’s Iranian jailors and interrogators are shown to be a pretty unintelligent lot. It’s true that the film does depict a good number of smart, modern Iranian citizens, but it could have been aided from a page in the Paul Greengrass playbook where the bad guys are more than simple caricatures.

The end of Rosewater drags a little bit—to an extent I would assume that this is intentional, as being trapped in jail under false pretenses in a foreign country is probably not the speediest thing one could experience. But in the arc of the film it doesn’t really work; it’s likely that you’ll be bored by the end of the movie. Two years ago, Bernal was the lead in Pablo Larraín’s Chilean film No, about the 1988 referendum that wound up defeating Pinochet. No and Rosewater don’t share all that much apart from some surface similarities (and their lead actor); as such, they vary wildly in overall quality and the ability to stay in your mind once they’re over. If you’re thinking about seeing Rosewater but never caught up with No, take a pass on Stewart’s film and instead view a political film that’s more of a whole success. | Pete Timmermann

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