Many of the current hosts of late night television are former actors, or people who have a firm grasp on what is happening in the world while simultaneously having a sense of humour. Jon Stewart, who happens to fall in both categories thanks to a string of supporting roles in the 90’s, is also adept at film directing, making his debut with the political drama Rosewater, based on the personal memoir of Maziar Bahari.
In 2009, Iran was in the grip of a political war thanks to the presidential election, which journalist Maziar Bahari (Gael Garcia Bernal) was covering. While being interviewed (by the Daily Show no less) Bahari jokingly admits that he is a ‘spy’, which is definitely misconstrued and results in his immediate arrest. His sole interaction from this point on is from his torturer, dubbed Rosewater (Kim Bodnia) for his specific cologne. Rosewater tries to wear Bahari down with both physical and psychological tactics, and while these do seem to work to a degree, Bahari resorts to oddly hilarious coping mechanisms in order to stay positive and fight for freedom, which include conversations with family members and telling erotic tales to the sexually repressed Rosewater in the hopes of breaking his captor. Rosewater clearly has one goal in mind, to get a confession from Bahari admitting his guilt on camera in regards to his being a ‘spy’; which after months of imprisonment Bahari complies so he can return home to his wife Paola (Claire Foy) and newborn child.
Stewart penned the screenplay, based on Bahari’s memoir Then They Came For Me, and he manages quite nicely in keeping the scenes minimalistic and instead focusing on the relationship between the hostage and the torturer. Oddly enough, there are actually quite a few light moments in spite of the tone of the film, which was a surprising yet appreciated inclusion by Stewart. Anyone would be forgiven for losing their mind if they were in the same position as Bahari, so it was nice to see a half glass full approach instead of the dramatic, torturous vibes most political dramas shroud themselves in. Stewart blends that humour in nicely with the psychological aspects of an interrogation situation, creating a fully realised script that is supported nicely by Garcia Bernal and Bodnia.
With a huge amount of weight on their shoulders to essentially carry the film, Garcia Bernal and Bodnia both turn in great performances in their respective roles. Garcia Bernal brings with him this unfaltering sense of hope, no matter how dire the circumstance, that he will enjoy freedom again. Added to this his great sense of timing and understanding of the enormity of the situation, and Garcia Bernal is perfectly cast as our heroic survivor. Bodnia is equally as impressive as the antagonist Rosewater, always seeming more powerful and more stoic every time he was on screen. It was the subtlety of what was happening under the surface that really caught my attention with Bodnia, his thoughtfulness that there is a lot more to this guy than just interrogating someone, which as an audience really keeps you invested in the power play between the two leads.
Rosewater looks like your run of the mill political drama based on a true story with a (somewhat) happy ending, and to a certain degree it is. But Stewart has managed to differentiate this film from others with a great cast and the unexpected funny moments, marking his directorial debut a definite success.
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