Jon Stewart directs a dramatic story almost too absurd to be true

A movie concerning solitary confinement is difficult. A person. A room. Bare walls. Isolation. For a visual medium, there are none worse.

Yet, Rosewater handles the situation intricately. Maziar Bahari’s story, that of an Iranian-born Newsweek reporter held captive for suspected spying during the country’s election turmoil in 2009, is one of absurdity and baffling cruelty. Bahari was not a spy; he appeared on a satirical segment of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show which Bahari’s captors implausibly took seriously. It would be comedy were Bahari’s circumstances less agonizing.

Enter Daily Show host Jon Stewart, who, while arguably too close to this real world narrative, directs his first feature. Gael Garcia Bernal takes the lead role, portraying the conflicted journalist amidst the nation’s political strife who is then taken captive. Stewart’s screenplay leads Bahari through months of psychological and physical torture, depicting the reporter with resolute strength.

To turn such an empty film scenario accessible, Bahari has visions. His father, captured under similar circumstances decades prior for communism, is seen as an element of motivation.

Further rattling a mundane existence are frantic montages, tearing through weeks of endless repetition in minutes. It’s contemptible in this form; it was surely intolerable for Bahari.

Rosewater successfully pushes forward from its back-and-forth introductory act which spills with impatient exposition.

Stewart’s style is clean and direct. Rosewater’s careful and natural camera placement evokes a documentary; the authenticity adds an unnerving touch. Coupled with Bernal’s performance, Rosewater successfully pushes forward from its back-and-forth introductory act which spills impatient exposition. When Rosewater settles, both from the street level chaos concerning the election and its own bumpy decisions, the film turns uncomfortably intimate (appropriately so) with few characters to take notice of.

Politically, Rosewater displays a crafty intellectualism. The distribution of information is concise and this foreign situation – which many Americans are likely unaware of – is told deliberately through Bahari’s reports. Religious implications build an accessible projection of progressive versus conservative governments.

More than just Bahari’s story, Stewart’s film works as a period snapshot of Iran, although what if any effectiveness it has will be noticed in retrospect. We’re likely years away. As for the now, Rosewater is somber and eventually entertaining – near freedom, Bahari becomes his spirited self rather than the guarded figure he was forced to be. His story is unfortunate yet important, distressing but moving.

Movie ★★★★☆ 

Strong fidelity @ 1:10:42

Arri Alexa digital work lends Rosewater whatever detail it can, although the specific rooms are often cut off from exterior light. Grays dominate and cause overcast, sapping visual energy. Close-ups are high in number, yet removed of fidelity. It’s merely the nature of the cinematography.

Images are still sharp. At distance, the scribbles on the walls of Bahari’s cell remain visible and rough textures of the concrete floor are evident. In first act story events, light is more available. High frequency materials are certainly stronger. On the flip side, visually, Bahari’s unwarranted captivity is made significantly stronger by the end. Upon his release, the act of the sun hitting his face is shared as warm colors flood into the images.

Minor faults can be found with noise, a minor and unobtrusive source problem. Universal’s encode is more than enough to handle the imagery.

Note Rosewater makes extended use of stock footage from sources of varying quality. Some is abysmally low resolution or littered with artifacts. Clips from CNN and cell phone footage appear further degraded for effect. Intent is obvious and needed.

Video ★★★★☆ 

There is little room for this DTS-HD mix to work given the nature of the film. Rooms are small and barely carry an echo. Dialog will rarely break from the center. Even the rears are dead.

Anything of audio consequence comes early, namely the street level protests which fill the channels with screaming citizens. Gunshots naturally spread through the soundfield with no artificial LFE. Rosewater finds little use for the low-end.

While much of this track could be given space, it is likely better to keep it focused. It makes Bahari the central figure who takes the abuse.

Audio ★★★★☆ 

There are five “featurettes” on the disc. It looks great on the back of box, but these are the worst type of filler, sub one minute pseudo-trailers which provide no insight, no discussion, nor purpose for their inclusion. Considering the reality of the story, not providing any insight from anybody is inexcusable and embarrassing. They’re not worth listing.

Video ★☆☆☆☆ 

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.


Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.