Solitary Confinement Is Boring: Stewart’s Adaptation Of Bahari’s Lengthy Detainment is a Slick, Tame Affair
Jon Stewart’s first foray into the fictional film arena is as topical and slick as one might expect from the premier late night comedy newsman whose highly attuned fingers happens to live on the pulse of world politics and whose industry connections must run deeper than most, yet in parts, Rosewater is either screwed in too tightly or not enough. Depicting the brutal facts with humanity and style, Stewart let’s a surprising amount of heart shine through his signature ironic cynicism, so much so that his film tends toward bland melodrama rather than the hard hitting realism this story of media righteousness might require.
This follows the highly publicized story of real life Iranian born, Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari’s attempt to cover the controversial Iranian 2009 elections and his subsequent arrest and 118 day detainment, during which he was accused of being a spy, psychologically tortured and endlessly interrogated. Having adapted the script himself from Bahari’s account of his endured traumas chronicled within the pages of “Then They Came for Me: A Family’s Story of Love, Captivity, and Survival”, which the journalist co-wrote with Aimee Molloy, Stewart paints Bahari as a man of high morals and pervasive memories. His interest in the people of Iran is portrayed through many warm inquires and genuine curiosity about peoples concerns, while his responsibilities as a journalist are in turn informed by his respect for the hope and resourcefulness inherent in the populous he’s assigned to cover. While the camera glued to his hands takes in the opinions running through the heated political climate, it’s turned off when he’s given access to secrets that could potentially undermine the underprivileged people he’s interviewing.
Emanating cordial compassion, Gael García Bernal is perfectly cast to play Bahari, his earnest, laid back demeanor instantly recognizable as our empathetic leading man, cool, curious, funny, and still highly intelligent. When he’s finally escorted from his childhood home which he’s visiting to a barren prison cell at the hands of apathetic men with little understanding of satiric humor or the social context of liking things on Facebook, Bernal aptly employs an air of ignorance, truthfully not knowing why they’ve declared him a spy. Wanting him to admit his covert intelligence as an agent for the US government, he’s beaten, threatened, starved, and left in solitary confinement where his mind begins to look inward. Within, he finds his pregnant wife, who he’s left alone at home, and his father, who spent his own torturous time inside this very prison, acting as a memorial projection of his own internal debate to fold to demands or to keep his head up, stoically maintaining the truth to men who honestly don’t seem to care whether he is lying or not.
With the help of his busy-bee cinematographer Bobby Bukowski, as well as Malick and Aronofsky confidant, editor Jay Rabinowitz, the film is a pretty looking, well constructed, story that just doesn’t seem to build the tension an internationally known imprisonment should wield. Rather than seeking to impart the physical and mental intensity of such a situation onto the audience, Stewart instead let’s Bernal carry the brunt of the situation with characteristically effervescence, only in brief spurts showing any signs of true fear or regret.
Neither botched, nor especially urgent, Rosewater ends up being an attentive, well acted, yet fairly bland celebration of the spirit of great journalism that Stewart himself so guilelessly seems to appreciate. Strangely, it could have benefited greatly from a little more of that raw, fiery cynical spirit found nightly on The Daily Show.
Reviewed on September 10th at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival – Special Presentations Programme. 103 Minutes