Can’t trust that Jon Stewart. Now, that Stephen Colbert is a whole lot more reliable.
In 2009, London-based Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari (Gael García Bernal) took to the streets of Iraq to cover the 2009–10 Iranian election and, as a result, the riots that soon occurred afterwards as well. It was a simple task that was going to gain him and his pregnant wife some more money, and also opened his eyes to what the hell was really out there happening on the streets that he didn’t usually get a chance to see in most Western media-outlets. But after Bahari does a tongue-in-cheek interview with the Daily Show, the Iraq government gets a little suspicious and detains Bahari to question him about his stay on their home turf. Basically, they believe Bahari to be an American spy, and although Bahari obviously isn’t, his captors still have a job to do and need to get any confession out of him that they possibly can. This means that Bahari goes through plenty of psychological trauma, both mental and physical torture, solitary confinement, time spent with blind-folds on, and also, time spent alone, literally talking to no one except for his own-self, or even the imaginary-friends he makes up in his own head. But still, Bahari feels the need and desire to stay alive and sure as hell won’t let somebody stop him from doing so, even if he does run a little too close to risking his own life in the process.
It’s pretty interesting that such a well-known comedian/celebrity such as Jon Stewart would not only abandon his post on the Daily Show for nearly a whole summer, just to make a movie, but to make a movie that isn’t what we tend to expect from most actors who decide to get behind the screen for the first times in their careers. See, with most directorial debuts from actors who are already well-established, they don’t always get the big budget they want, or think they deserve, so therefore, their scope is a bit limited. Meaning, they usually like to keep things as small, simple, and as pain-free as possible, with the hopes of, if everything goes by smoothly on the first try, then their sophomore go-ahead will be what it is that they want to do, with nearly as much money as they need to make their wildest, most ambitious dreams possible.
But the strange thing with Rosewater, isn’t that Stewart seems very ambitious with the material he chooses direct, but that he’s sort of the main reason for why this story was even made possible to begin with. Many people always ask when they certain movies, “Why was this story even told to us? And better yet, why was it adapted to the big screen?” And to be honest, there usually isn’t any other answer except for, “Well, just because. duh,” but for Stewart, it’s obvious what his motivations were behind bringing this story to the big screen and why he felt it was necessary to tell it to begin with: He feels a slightly bit guilty about it all.
Sure, you could also say that he wants to focus on what’s really going on everyday on the wild streets of Iran, but that aspect of the film’s story isn’t nearly as established as Bahari’s time inside solitary confinement is, which actually brings a huge problem to this movie: It’s quite boring.
And yes, I know that this may sound like a stupid complaint for a movie that clearly doesn’t hid behind the fact that it’s about a dude who nearly spent 118 days in solitary confinement and getting constantly hammered with useless questions about whether or not he’s a special informant for the U.S., but Stewart makes the bad choice of showing us that he can spice this story up in any way possible. We get flashbacks, imaginary-friends, a small view of what’s happening outside of Bahari’s captivity, and even tiny bits of development for Bahari’s main interrogator; but hardly any of it’s actually interesting, or better yet, brings any excitement to this tale to begin with. I can definitely give Stewart credit for trying, but when your main objective is to tell a story, and to do so in the most exciting, most entertaining way possible, and you can’t appear to do that, unless it being incredibly manipulative, then I’m a bit sorry, you’ve disappointed me.
But still, Stewart makes some interesting choices here and there and allows for the movie to, at certain points at least, be funny. There’s a moment in this flick in which we get to see Bahari actually stand up for himself and turn the tables on his captors in, not only a funny manner, but an effective way, too. Bahari begins to dress up his lies as truth, and therefore, the captors can’t help but feel uncomfortable, while also slightly interested in everything Bahari tells them. This sequence, as small as it may be, is one of the key instances in which it’s clear that Stewart utilizes some of his comedic-talent to allow this material to pop-off the screen and really grab a hold of our minds, but it’s also another instance in which this movie held so much promise, yet, fell by the waist side of not really having a clear focus at all.
If anything, I also have to give a lot of credit to Gael García Bernal who, despite being Mexican, actually does a nice job as the Iranian, Maziar Bahari. Though, when you put him against fellow Iranian characters who are in fact played by Iranian actors, he does look a little bit out of place, Bernal is still a capable enough actor to have us see past this obvious problem and just remember that this is a guy we’re supposed to keep on rooting for, even if we don’t know exactly why. He’s just another guy who gets thrown into a shitty situation that so many others get thrown into as well, but the difference here is that he’s got a wife, and a baby on the way. It’s corny, but it works, if only because Bernal digs deep into who this guy is, and why at all he matters to us.
We know why he matters to Stewart, but to us, the audience, it’s key that we at least feel some sympathy for the guy.
And although Bernal’s Bahari is the one we’re supposed to obviously be interested by the most, it’s still hard to not want to know more about his captor, either. Kim Bodnia, another non-Iranian actor playing an Iranian, does a fine a job as Bahari’s main captor (his nickname was the movie’s title, all because Bahari couldn’t identify him by anything else, other than the smell of his fresh-to-death cologne), and gives us a glimpse into the soul of a guy who may be more than what he appears to be. Sure, he has a pretty brutal job that he goes through with, day in and day out, without hardly any objections, but there’s a slight idea we get to see in which we realize that maybe he doesn’t like his savage job as much as he appears to be, and is only being a brutal d-bag, because that’s what his boss from up top tells him to be. It’s all very interesting and, had there been a better movie to work with here, I feel like Bodnia would have absolutely ran wild with this character and gave us plenty to talk about, but thus, we don’t.
Just another instance of disappointment. Interesting disappointment, but disappointment nonetheless.
Consensus: Though Jon Stewart shows plenty of promise behind the camera with Rosewater, it’s still a messy movie that doesn’t always hit the marks that it should, but gets by on a few interesting notes, if only mildly so.
7 / 10 = Rental!!
Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images