Box Office Democracy: Rosewater
Rosewater is a movie that Jon Stewart basically had to make after The Daily Show played a major role in the imprisonments of Iranian journalist Maziar Bahari. It works really well as an apology and as an effort to further Bahari’s mission to increase the visibility of journalists who have become political prisoners. Unfortunately, it’s not a particularly good piece of filmmaking.
Stewart is quite green and it shows in almost every facet of the movie. The performances he gets from his actors aren’t quite up to the level of the material he’s trying to create. The movie lumbers along at times where they should move faster and speeds through moments I would love to see breathe more. It doesn’t feel like a student effort, that would be a bridge way too far, but it does feel like a movie by a director that’s learning as he goes.
For a movie about so many big, important, emotional things it’s amazing how sterile Rosewater feels. There are so many moments when I know the movie wants to be sad, or profound, or wistful and it never quite clicks. I was always acutely aware that I was watching people pretending.
It’s good pretending. Gael Garcia Bernal does a fine job with what he has and I’m not sure if this movie is proof that he’s broken through in America or that he never will. Also after seeing Riz Ahmed playing a Mexican-American in Nightcrawler and Bernal playing an Iranian-British person in Rosewater I look forward to the prestige Hollywood film that has a Persian play a Pakistani to complete the triangle. Shohreh Aghdashloo is stunning in her subtlety. She’s electric when she’s on screen and I was begging for more of her struggle and fewer conversations with phantoms.
While it wouldn’t fit the narrative about journalists in peril around the world, I was disappointed at how much Rosewater focused on Bahari when there seemed to be two more interesting stories happening around the edges of the main focus. I appreciated that the revelation that there has been a tireless campaign on Bahari’s behalf makes for a good reveal and pushes the action forward in a meaningful way after it gets quite bogged down in the endless torture and captivity scenes but I wanted to see so much more of that campaign than the tiny montage they gave us. Captivating the attention of the American people and even the State Department is a huge accomplishment and I would rather have seen more of that process than another scene of Bahair describing strange massages to his captor. This would have been a completely different movie altogether but I would rather have watched a movie about the Green Revolution members who drifted through the film. I don’t think this movie had to be that but I worry the American film industry will never make a second movie about modern Iranian politics. Not while there are still more World War Two movies to be made.