Overview: The true account of Maziar Bahari, and Iranian-born Canadian journalist who in 2009 was imprisoned for 118 days for his approach to covering the Iranian presidential election, based on Bahari’s book Then They Came For Me. Open Road Films; 2014; Rated R; 103 Minutes.
A Noble First Attempt: First time feature film director Jon Stewart (of The Daily Show fame) seems, at least on paper, an odd choice to to sit at the front of this project. However, his historical connection to the actual events goes a long way in explaining his involvement. Bahari’s participation in a satirical interview in Stewart’s comedic news show played a significant part in the justification for his incarceration. Bahari and Stewart penned the script together and eventually decided that the story was best left in the hands of its authors. Even with that in mind, looking at the project in that context, it’s hard not to raise an eyebrow at the idea of a renowned comedian handling a heavy handed political drama. But Stewart manages to surprise in two qualities of his final product: The first is a surprise in its success, the second a surprise in its innovation.
Comedic Value: There are jokes in Rosewater, and plenty of them. And almost all of them connect. Stewart’s masterful sense of comedic timing is evident in almost every scene. While, particularly in an era of disappointing comedies, it feels strange to complain about laughing at a movie, I can’t help but wonder if the script’s smirking asides don’t ultimately dilute the the dramatic heaviness and political importance of the film. Combined with a few misguided steps in narrative presentation (the film is presented in non-chronological order and Stewart’s construction isn’t as seamless and comfortable as a more seasoned director’s might have been), the amount of time I spent laughing in this film shielded me against the sense of urgency that should have been inherent in the story.
Innovative Editing: What affecting emotion this movie delivers to its audience is delivered by the connection to Bahari’s personal story, which is provided in two ways: Gael Garcia Bernal’s solid portrayal and the application of bold and relatively innovative editing techniques. Because images from Bahari’s past are imposed onto the screen in eye-catching ways, we are afforded more awareness into his life than the film’s run time would typically allow. However, the cleverness in editing veers toward novelty at different points, plasticizing the film’s attempted “call to participation” so that it almost feels like an advertisement for Twitter or Apple.
Overall: With Rosewater, Jon Stewart turns in a commendable effort with a very important topic that necessitates an equally important message, but in certain stretches, his early directorial strengths work against him.