by Richard Gould
When its strange backstory and connection to a celebrity writer-director become old news, ROSEWATER will still be on shelves as a political thriller of a very high order, and I’m shocked that director Jon Stewart had it in him. What distinguishes the story from other fine films of its ilk—say Argo, or the suspensers of Costa-Gavras—is a single, weightless fleck of irony that first gets Newsweek’s Iran stringer Maziar Bahari (played by Gael Garcia Bernal) 118 days of prison, beatings and interrogations right after the country’s botched 2009 election. A visiting “correspondent” (comedian Jason Jones as himself, doing the bit he did) conducts an interview with Bahari in Tehran, describing himself in passing as an American spy. The segment’s airing on The Daily Show doesn’t translate well for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, already jittery following a stolen election and Bahari’s alarming footage of the ensuing riots—and they bring a brutal detention down on the London-based journo, convinced that he’s an enemy agent. All a blindfolded Bahari can be sure of is that the silken-voiced questioner behind him (Kim Bodnia), who’s as likely to club him off his chair or mock-execute him as serve lemon cucumbers and coffee, knows his trade well—and wears the scent of rosewater. The film can be seen as a favor returned, and Stewart has said as much, but the director takes the opportunity to steer deeper waters—keenly ambivalent of modern news gatherers like ourselves, who wade into a national tragedy to cut brutal posers down to size. Turns out that there’s a class element in the bargain.