When Jon Stewart announced several weeks ago that he would be leaving The Daily Show at some as yet undetermined date in 2015, cries of shock and disappointment rang out. Stewart has been a late night staple on Comedy Central for 16 years and an undeniably important voice in the barrage of noise spewed out on the 24-hour news networks.
While Stewart’s post Daily plans have not yet been revealed, his debut film as a writer/director, Rosewater, reveals that he may have a future making films. Rosewater is as impressive a debut as I can recall in recent years, and is notable for being such a staunch departure from his Daily material.
Stewart was in a unique position to tell the story of Iranian Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari (the always excellent Gael Garcia Bernal), who was arrested and detained for 118 days in Iran’s Evin Prison. Bahari was in Iran to cover the historic 2009 election for Newsweek in which Mahmoud Ahmadinejad defeated Mir-Hossein Mousavi under what may have been dubious circumstances. Bahari was caught filming the riots and protests that erupted in the streets and was taken to prison. As the film tells it, Bahari’s captors are not so interested in the footage of the protests he shot, but his appearance on Stewart’s show, in which correspondent Jason Jones pretended to be an American spy interviewing Bahari for a bit. They ask why he would talk to an American spy. He asks them why a spy would have a TV show.
Back and forth they go – Bahiri’s captors insisting he is a spy, and Bahiri trying to explain that the show was satirical comedy. The conversation leads nowhere, and things escalate to a physical nature. Bahiri notes that his captor (Kim Bodnia) smells distinctly of Rosewater, an odor he had previously only associated with religious figures, which is quite the juxtaposition.
The script (adapted from Bahiri’s book Then They Came for Me) shows Stewart’s skill as a writer, as it doesn’t delve to heavily into expository dialogue, instead letting the story unfold in a way that feels natural and organic. Stewart also doesn’t get too heavy handed in his direction, favoring simple sets and camera angles that don’t distract from the fact that an innocent man is being tortured by men who simply don’t understand the depth of their own folly.
Whenever I read about some blowhard bloviating about their freedom of speech being trampled on because they face any kind of repercussions for the things they say, I wonder if they truly understand what it’s like to have your rights taken away from you the way they were taken away from Maziar Bahari. If nothing else, Rosewater proves that no matter how bad you think you have it under the current (for conservatives) or previous (for liberals) administration, our lives are pretty damn easy.
Five bonus featurettes are included as extras (“Iran’s Controversial Election,” “The Story of Maziar Bahari,” “Real Spies Have TV Shows,” “What Happens in New Jersey…,” “A Director’s Perspective”). All are fine, but are less than a minute long each. These brief little snippets probably could have been cut together to make a five-minute featurette instead. Overall, they don’t add a ton to the presentation.
Open Road Films presents Rosewater. Directed by Jon Stewart. Written by Jon Stewart, based on the book titled “Then They Came for Me” by Maziar Bahari. Starring Gael Garcia Bernal, Kim Bodnia, Haluk Bilginer, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Golshifteh Farahani. Run Time: 104 minutes. Rated R. Released: February 17, 2015.
Tags: Gael Garcia Bernal, Jon Stewart, Rosewater