Posted on November 16, 2014 at 11:04 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language including some crude references, and violent content
Profanity: Strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Riots and brutal attacks on rioters and rebels, torture
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: November 14, 2014
Copyright 2014 Open Road Films
Copyright 2014 Open Road Films

First-time writer/director Jon Stewart has made a remarkably assured film about the imprisonment and torture of Iranian journalist Maziar Bahari It is an absorbing drama that is at the same time the story of a very specific individual and a thoughtful consideration of contemporary geopolitics that avoids stereotypes or jingoism. This not only makes it a better story; it elevates the level of discourse without preachiness.

Bahari (a superb Gael Garcia Bernal) was working for Newsweek when he returned to Iran to cover the election in 2009. He knew the dangers of posing a threat to the government in Iran. His father and sister both died in prison as accused enemies of two different regimes. And now, as he filmed the protests over the disputed election victory of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the “Dish University” maintained by dissidents, he knows he is putting himself and his subjects and sources at risk. It is possible he does not consider the risks posed by his decision to be interviewed by “The Daily Show,” where he jokes about being a spy.

He is asleep at his mother’s home when officials arrive to take him to prison.  It is disturbing and shocking that he is neither disturbed or shocked.  While his mother (Shohreh Aghdashloo) bravely snaps at the man who orders her to wear a headscarf, Bahari is calm and polite.

Stewart wants us to understand the pressure that Bahari’s interrogator (Danish actor Kim Bodnia) is under. Stewart shrewdly introduces us to the man who smells of rose water as he is on the phone to his family, and showing us that he is just one link in a chain of oppression and bureaucracy. And he is not afraid to use cinematic touches to show us what is going on in Bahari’s mind. We see a face reflected on the walls as he walks through the streets. Later, in prison, he has conversations with his father and sister. They seem real to us, but they are not hallucinations. They are just visual embodiments of Bahari’s thought processes or fantasies has the weeks in solitary confinement turn into months, with no contact from the outside world. These memories of his family members who were also imprisoned help him stay strong. They even help him briefly outsmart Rosewater, as he fabricates a series of sexual encounters to describe in questioning, his “specialist” (interrogator) listening in horrified fascination, Bahari having, for once, the upper hand.

Stewart wisely also keeps us confined with Bahari, not telling us more than he knows about efforts to get him out of prison. When we finally see archival footage of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton talking about the importance of having him freed, we share his sense of relief that the world knows what is going on and cares about it. The other prisoners have no such support. And yet, Stewart finds a way to end on an image of hope that circles back to origins of the film itself. In moving out from behind the “Daily Show” desk, he is inviting us, as he has and as Bahari has, to shift from observer to participant.

Parents should know that this film includes some mature material: riots, abuse and torture (not graphic), some sexual references, and some strong language.

Family discussion: In what way did Maziar use his imprisoners’ weakness? What were their most effective tactics and what were his?

If you like this, try: “Z” and “Beaufort” and Bahari’s book, Rosewater: A Family’s Story of Love, Captivity, and Survival

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Based on a book Based on a true story Drama Movies -- format War