Saturday, November 22, 2014

ROSEWATER: A Film Review

I'm sorry, Jon Stewart. I'm really sorry because I love your "Daily Show." I love that your satire holds the feet of politicians to the fire But your film... well, someone needs to say this: it's not what it's cracked up to be. I think that, because you're "Jon Stewart," those who write about film have not been honest about this movie. Perhaps, like me, they're simply enamored of the work for which you're justly famous and see the film in that light. Perhaps they honestly believe that it's terrific.

It's not. It's a well-intentioned effort to throw light on the plight of journalists everywhere whose brave work in "bearing witness" to the abuse of power is rewarded by imprisonment and torture. An important message. But the film's most fatal flaw is that it lacks the fundamental ingredient of any good film: drama.

Drama happens through building tension, but nothing builds here. The initial scenes are promising enough, as the protagonist, the journalist Maziar Bahari, falls into the hands of the Iranian political police. And the interrogations begin with an appropriate sense of threat. But from the moment of the first interrogation scene, there's no development, no action, just more words. You don't want the poor guy to suffer more, of course, but there's no delivery on the threat of worse to come. The scenes become repetitive, and predictable, and frankly boring. They go on far too long.

By the same token, simply numbering the days of solitary confinement--inhuman though this treatment is--does not make them more dramatic. Even the initially effective visual contrast between blinding white cells and black blindfolds remains somehow undeveloped.  The eye longs for more interest and variety.

Advance publicity for the movie suggested, slyly, an important link between the satirical Daily Show skit with Jason Jones posing as an American spy in interview with Bahari.  In fact, very little was made of this intriguing possibility, and the dark, absurdist humor I was somehow expecting was so low key, I might have missed it altogether if I hadn't heard about it in advance. All in all, at the end, Bahari's release came as something of an anticlimax. He did not, as the film's protagonist, seem to have undergone the change we would expect.  He has suffered, yes.  But what has he learned, other than that torture is evil and torturers humorless and inhuman?  How has he grown?

So we were left--I, as a viewer, was left--with little to have engaged me but the film's message: reporters should be free to bear honest witness to the truth of the abuse of power.  An important, even pressing one, but not enough to make a good movie.


kfsartist said...

Thank you for being objective Peter. I began reading your review then decided to put it aside until I see the movie for myself. Like you, I really appreciate Stuarts creative intelligent mind, sensitivity to issues and talents to project these in an amusing and poignant way. So, it is specially difficult to read this criticism before the fact.

robin andrea said...

Yours is the only review I've read because I absolutely trust your honest perceptions. No filtering. I love Jon Stewart and was hoping that this film would be a springboard for a new future for him. But I actually noticed a dearth of acclaim after the film's release. I expected and hoped for huge fanfare and great praise. Thank you for writing an honest review.

PeterAtLarge said...

Thanks, Andrea. It's always a warm pleasure to hear from you! I trust you are both well and happy...