Last summer, Jon Stewart left ‘The Daily Show’ to direct his first feature film based on a script he wrote. It was a strange, ballsy and unexpected move, one that will inevitably get the film more criticism than would typically happen for a first-time feature. Thankfully, it’s also a pretty good movie, so Stewart needn’t worry too much.
The film is based on the true story of Iranian/Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari’s five-month imprisonment in Iran in 2009. Bahari was there to cover the corrupt election and caught some footage that the government wasn’t pleased about. He also appeared on ‘The Daily Show’ in a segment that jokingly presented correspondent Jason Jones as an idiotic American spy trying to infiltrate the country. When Bahari was arrested, the clip was used as evidence to suggest that he was a spy. He spent five months in prison desperately trying to convince his captors of his innocence before the international media got hold of the story and raised awareness through a long campaign. Stewart clearly became fascinated with the material through his indirect involvement with the ‘Daily Show’ bit, and eventually mounted this film with Gael Garcia Bernal starring as Bahari.
‘Rosewater’ is a passionate and subjective portrait of Bahari’s imprisonment, and one that Stewart handles surprisingly well. Though he indulges in the occasional bit of over-stylization (like CGI-enhanced memories projected on walls) and over-moralization, it’s surprisingly a mature and sensitive portrayal of the subject for someone with no previous directing experience. He plays the story straight and intensely, and Bernal gives an impassioned performance at the centre. Stewart even sneaks a little comedy, sometimes at bizarre spots, and it helps balance out the tone well.
Has Stewart made a masterpiece? No, but this is certainly an accomplished piece of work that’s well worth a look. Between this and giving the world Jon Oliver, his summer off was well spent.