Embodying the old Hollywood joke “I’ve always wanted to direct,” Comedy Central star Jon Stewart took an entire summer off last year to direct a film called “Rosewater” about Newsweek reporter Maziar Bahiri being abducted in Iran. In an early review in The Hollywood Reporter, film critic Todd McCarthy implies it’s a direct-to-video dud.
Only Stewart’s adoring liberal fans make this film worth any notice, he wrote. The atrocities of ISIS make the idea of being held hostage in Tehran lack a sense of compelling urgency and feels like a “sideshow” on the current scene in the Middle East (trailer below):
But while the issues of political oppression Rosewater deals with remain relevant in places all over the world, the jailing, rough interrogation and release after four months of a young journalist at the time of the 2009 Iranian presidential elections just doesn't seem that timely or urgent given the hailstorm of insidious outrages that have taken place in the Middle East since then.
This Open Road release, which will open on Nov. 7 after debuting on the festival circuit, will get loads of attention based on the celebrity of its writer-director. But if this very same film had been made by an unknown director, it would pass in the night with only scant notice.
The way the story unfolds, there really isn't a message per se other than a general one about not giving up hope; the political and personal lessons here don't seem particularly profound or instructive.
Stewart and cinematographer Bobby Bukowski cover it all in a straightforward, watchable way, the performances are all sincere and solid and the situation is easy to respond to emotionally. But as a case history in the annals of political repression, it feels like a bit of a sideshow.
Eric Kohn at Indie Wire tries to grade Stewart on a curve even if he “never manages to transform the material into a satisfactory drama....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.”