Maziar Bahari (Gael Garcia Bernal), an American/Iranian journalist, travels to Iran to cover the 2009 election between Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Mir-Hossein Mousavi for Newsweek magazine. After filming scenes of civil unrest after the result, Bahari is detained and tortured for over one hundred days, under suspicion of being a foreign spy. Based on the book Then They Came for Me and on the true story of Maziar Bahari’s arrest, detainment and torture in Iran.
Jon Stewart, fresh off his departure from the hugely popular Daily Show, makes his filmic debut by writing and directing this feature. As you would probably expect, Stewart has tackled issues close to his interest in this film, of political corruption as well as the freedom and importance of the press in covering and revealing political issues. He also manages to create a few genuinely humorous and light moments in a film which, as it is about wrongful imprisonment and torture, could have been much more depressing and heavy.
The film, though, is not entirely plain sailing and there are a few faults that highlight Stewart’s lack of experience in his debut feature. Some early setting up of character backstory feels like it has fallen from a TV movie, not helped by awkwardly added flashback images laid over the present and the fairly overwrought score, and a twitter segment, though highlighting one of the films messages, feels quite amateur and quite out of place. Rosewater hits its stride once it settles down furtherin to the film and particularly when Stewart is allowed to write scenes of just two people in a room talking. The last two thirds of the film are its most effective as we follow the unjust imprisonment of Bahari and his treatment at the hands of a corrupt Iranian government. Here Stewart is able to focus on the importance of small things, such as the warmth of the sun that can be so easily taken for granted, and best shows his creative hand. These scenes are interesting and keep you involved in Bahari’s story, giving more depth to the man than the clunky exposition at the beginning. Stewart also creates a torturer who is more than just a two dimensional weapon, instead showing a man stuck in a system that, though he takes part in, he seems out of place in and is trying to move away from it.
Rosewater has gained fortuitous prescience in being released the day after the U.K. general election. In the past couple of weeks where national newspapers have plastered their front pages with propaganda like orders of who to vote for, it is important to be reminded of the proper journalistic work that is still undertaken around the world. Journalists who risk their safety and freedom to get footage and speak to the people who matter and to report on the important issues and injustices of the world. Though Bahari is not necessarily portrayed as a strong hero who battles on with integrity through anything, Stewart still shows a belief in proper journalism and shows what proper journalists are sometimes put through in the pursuit of justice and truth. He also highlights the importance of the true people’s voice in a democratic system, showing the passion and hopes of the people in choosing their leader and their entirely justified reaction in an unjust result. With the film’s last shot we see Stewart’s thesis, championing new technology in the fight for journalism with integrity and truth. The power is in the hands of the people, with anyone who has a mobile phone and who can film and spread the truth that corrupt systems don’t want you to see.
Though not without some flaws, Rosewater is a solid, entertaining and enjoyable debut from Jon Stewart. It seems that Stewart has a promising film career after leaving The Daily Show and it will be interesting to see what he does next.