Granger on Movies: 'Rosewater'

Darien News film critic Susan Granger reviews the new movie, "Rosewater:"

What did Jon Stewart do on his three-month hiatus from "The Daily Show?" He wrote and directed this political drama, adapted from Newsweek correspondent/broadcast journalist Maziar Bahari's best-selling memoir, "Then They Came for Me: A Family's Story of Love, Captivity, and Survival."

As it begins, 42-year old Bahari (Gael Garcia Bernal), who holds Iranian/Canadian citizenship, arrives in Tehran to interview Mir-Hossein Moussavi, who was challenging controversial incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the 2009 election. Befriended by his driver (Dimitri Leonidas), Bahari is able to video Moussavi's young supporters protesting Ahmadinejad's declaration of a "landslide victory" hours before the polls closed.

Immediately afterwards, Bahari was taken from the home of his mother (Shohreh Agdashloo) by Revolutionary Guards and accused of espionage by the Islamic Republic. Spending the next 118 days in solitary confinement in Evin Prison, surreally haunted by the ghost of his father (Haluk Bilginer), who had been imprisoned by the Shah in 1953, Bahari was brutally interrogated and tortured by Jabadi (Kim Bodnia) who blindfolded Bahari could only identify by his rosewater-scented cologne. The pace during this particular section slogs far too much.

Meanwhile in London, Bahari's pregnant wife (Claire Foy) led an international campaign to obtain his freedom, which was picked up by media outlets, including Comedy Central's "The Daily Show." Eventually, Iranian authorities released Bahari on $300,000 bail and the promise he would act as a spy for the government.

Making his screenwriting/directorial debut, Jon Stewart acquits himself admirably, even tossing in a few New Jersey jokes. The challenge when making a political drama is to intrigue the audience without appearing didactic. And this concept is particularly pertinent, given ISIS's capture, torture and beheadings of journalists.

Jon Stewart, cinematographer Bobby Bukowski and a mostly Arabic crew filmed in Amman, Jordan, in 2013 during Ramadan, as the Syrian civil war erupted nearby. (FYI: James Gandolfini was originally slated to play the interrogator before his untimely death).

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Rosewater" is a relevant, insidious 6, acknowledging both the cost of oppression and absurdity of totalitarian regimes.