Jon Stewartmakes his directorial and big-screen screenwriting debut with Rosewater, which is about the true story of a journalist who was arrested in Iran on suspicion of being a Western spy and spent 118 days in a prison, where he was tortured.
The movie is based on the 2011 memoir Then They Came for Me: A Family's Story of Love, Captivity, and Survivalof Iranian-born journalistMaziar Bahari, who lives in London. InRosewater, Mexican actor Gael García Bernalplays Bahari, who had traveled to Iran in 2009 to cover the presidential elections, leaving behind his pregnant wife.
The journalist, a contributor forNewsweekmagazine, was arrested and imprisoned by Revolutionary Guard police, partially because he took part in a satirical news segment about Iran that aired on Stewart'sComedy Central comedy seriesThe Daily Show(watch it below).
Bahari was placed in solitary confinement and tortured for months. "Rosewater" is the nickname he gives his interrogator, played byKim Bodnia,because of his scent. He taunts the journalist and bombards him with ridiculous questions, including queries about his participation in theDaily Showsegment and one about his connection to comedian and actor Pauly Shore.
Check out what five movie critics have said about Rosewater.
The Boston Globe's Ty Burr gives the film three out of four stars, calling it a "more than solid first film from Stewart," adding that it is "a little artsy in some places, ambitiously staged in others (with Jordan subbing for Tehran), but mostly straightforwardly done."
"Rosewaterdoesn't ask us to admire a hero but to sympathize with a human being; instead of moving us to outrage, it stirs derision at any government that keeps its people in jail," he says. "Rosewater makes its oppressors seem laughably small, and that may be the most seditious act of all."
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Rolling Stone'sPeter Traversalso givesRosewaterthree out of four stars. "That the movie is as tense and chilling as it is owes much to Stewart's keen eye for the way humor surfaces even in the dark places. And there's no resorting to the thriller tropes that helped sell Argo," he writes, adding, "Kudos to Stewart for making Rosewater more than an earnest plea for journalistic freedom. He makes it personal."
The New York Times' Manohla Dargis writes that "it's in Evin Prison that Mr. Stewart does his best work, specifically in the scenes between Maziar and the man who gives the movie's title its nauseating, sickly meaning, the guard (an excellent Kim Bodnia) whose rosewater perfume can't obscure the stench that wafts off his body and announces his presence to his blindfolded prisoner."
Screenrant's Sandy Schaefer gave Rosewater three out of five stars, calling the movie "emotionally sincere and thoughtful" and praising Bernal's performance and but adding that the film also "feels like a first-time director's work."
"Stewart the filmmaker shows a clear interest in using the vocabulary of cinema to tell Maziar's story, utilizing such techniques as time-condensing montage (during the interrogation scenes) and expressionist lighting (the light in Maziar's cell symbolizes his sense of hope), among others, to not just show the journalist's experience, but also help filmgoers better understand how it felt," the writer states. "Problem is, these techniques are combined in a somewhat unorganized way; it feels more like the work of a director trying different things to see what works best, and not so much the work of a filmmaker with a clear vision."
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Schmoes Know'sMark Ellisgave Rosewater four and a half "Schmoes" out of five, calling the movie "captivating" and praising Stewart's directing. "If this is a one-off, then he hit it out of the park," he said.
He also praised Stewart for his "ability to inject a little bit of humor every so often," such as during the interactions between Bahari and Rosewater, and Bernal for giving "one of the best performances" of the year.
Rosewaterhit theaters on Friday. A day before, Stewart handed over the reins ofThe Daily Showto former correspondent John Oliver, who interviewed Bernal and the real Bahari. During the summer of 2013, Oliver had hosted Stewart's series while the latter star wasworking onRosewater. Oliver then left to head his own satirical talk show, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, which debuted on HBO in April.
"If it was not for my arrest, Jon would not make a film, you would not host the show and you would not have your show now," Bahari told him onThe Daily Show. "So, you're welcome."