Reviews of Jon Stewart‘s Rosewater (Open Road, 11.7), a drama about political imprisonment and torture inflicted upon Iranian journalist Maziar Bahari (Gale Garcia Bernal) in 2009 under Iran’s Ahmadinejad regime, were posted last night by trade critics. The response from Variety‘s Scott Foundas is respectful and encouraging, but the other three critics — The Hollywood Reporter‘s Todd McCarthy, Indiewire‘s Eric Kohn and TheWrap‘s Steve Pond — are saying “approved but rewards are modest.” Pic is expected to screen at the Telluride Film Festival this weekend as well as play the Toronto Film Festival next week.
Todd McCarthy: “An emotionally accessible but very modest tale of one man’s temporary misfortune at the hands of the Iranian government. [Done in] a capable, straightforward manner. Doesn’t seem that timely or urgent given the hailstorm of insidious outrages that have taken place in the Middle East since . If this very same film had been made by an unknown director, it would pass in the night with only scant notice.”
Steve Pond: “Rosewater has little in common with [Stewart’s] Emmy-winning day job as host of The Daily Show With Jon Stewart. That’s good in some ways, and not so good in others. [It’s] a solid, quietly involving work about political turmoil in the Middle East, and the toll it takes on a free press. Like much of Stewart’s work, it’s smart and it points fingers in directions in which they need to be pointed, [But] it’s also more earnest than Stewart’s TV fans might expect. And for much of its running time the film is not quite as sharp or energetic as you’d hope, possibly because Stewart the director is hardly the master the way Stewart the TV host is.”
Scott Foundas: “An alternately somber and darkly funny drama that may occupy the same geographic terrain as Argo (to which it will inevitably be compared), but in most other respects could hardly be more different. Largely a two-hander between Bahari (Gael Garcia Bernal) and the interrogator who puts him through a gauntlet of soul-crushing mindgames, Stewart’s confident, superbly acted debut feature works as both a stirring account of human endurance and a topical reminder of the risks faced by journalists in pursuit of the truth, minus the caper antics and flag waving of Ben Affleck’s populist Oscar winner.”
Eric Kohn: “Stewart’s directorial debut suffers from the director’s underwritten screenplay and several misconceived narrative devices. The portrait of Iranian journalist Maziar Bahari (Gael Garcia Bernal), who covered the divisive 2009 Iranian elections for Newsweek before getting detained by the country’s government for over 100 days following an appearance on Stewart’s show, never manages to transform the material into a satisfactory drama. But it’s also so committed to a good-natured attitude about the power of perseverance that the many shortcomings register as inoffensively well-intentioned rather than exclusively shallow. Imagine a rousing Daily Show episode without the jokes. Rosewater is lacking in sophistication, but its attitude is infectious.”