Rosewater (Blu-ray Review)

rosewater whysoblu coverRosewater is the film based on “Then They Came for Me” by Maziar Bahari, a journalist who was imprisoned for a lengthy period, following, among other things, an interview with a correspondent from The Daily Show. This film was the screenwriting and directorial debut of Jon Stewart, which arrived in theaters last year.  It did not do a ton of business, but it was given a good amount of respect for what it set out to do and certainly shows promise for the future of Stewart as a filmmaker. I would say he found a way to be very respectful to his subject, in an effort to make a compelling drama that may not be what one would expect, when it comes to watching a film put together by the host of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show.  Now the film is on Blu-ray, where hopefully more people can catch up with it.


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As the host of a satirical TV show, which has a strong focus on politics and national media, Jon Stewart’s decision to take time off and make a film had me intrigued.  What kind of film would he be developing?  Given how I seemed to unintentionally avoid reading about what this Rosewater project was, I found myself surprised by the results.  Rather than make some sort of biting satirical news-based drama, with crafty bits of dialogue and a certain political slant, Stewart has made a very earnest drama centered on a real-life event concerning the imprisonment of a journalist in Iran.  The film has fleeting moments of humor, but it does focus on a character dealing with the challenge of holding onto his own spirit, in the face of isolated imprisonment and harsh interrogation.

What could have compelled Stewart to make a film like this?  It is not accountability.  I have come to understand that, as the film may show interrogators using a clip from The Daily Show as a factor that led to the arrest of journalist Maziar Bahari (portrayed by Gael Garcia Bernal), but really anything involving Bahari could have been turned around against him, in an effort to make him confess to his supposed crimes.  In actuality, Stewart was clearly compelled by Barhi’s story, given his opportunities to speak with him, become closer to his story, and see what it means for a nation that still has imprisoned people suffering for unjust reasons.

Enough about Stewart’s role in this though, as there is still more to unpack regarding the film.  The backdrop of this film is 2009 Iran, during the presidential election.  Bahari has arrived in his home country with a goal of developing a story for his publication in regards to looking at the different sides via interviews with the populace.  Bahari is detained, most likely for bearing witness to a riot, which he captured on camera.  The majority of the film focuses on Barhari’s solitary confinement and the interrogation sessions he was subjected to, as his captors believed him to be a spy.

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There are some clear positive aspects to note.  The film is well-acted all around.  Bernal is not of Iranian decent and I am certainly not the one to judge the effectiveness of his portrayal of someone of Iranian background, but as far as seeing a performance and getting a sense of the emotion on display, Bernal does a fantastic job of having the audience understand what his character is going through (the fact that the real Maziar Bahari was an advisor on the film certainly helps).  The supporting actors do a good enough job as well in their roles, with Shohreh Aghdashloo standing out as Bahari’s mother, who gets the kind of character actress role that seems simple enough, but has a good amount of emotional weight that should not go underrated.  Still, this is a showcase for Bernal’s talents from an acting standpoint and he delivers.

From a filmmaking perspective, Jon Stewart has surrounded himself with a very capable crew.  The music by Howard Shore sets a fine mood.  The film works around its minimal budget to portray what it can in sequences outside the prison, before settling for minimal location use from within Evin Prison.  The editing and cinematography most certainly comes into play, as this is a film that must rely on its audience wanting to follow along with Bahari’s plight.  In order to deal with his confinement, Bahari had imaginary conversations with his father and sister.  Rosewater does a service to this aspect, while also framing and editing the interrogation scenarios to make us understand who is in control and watch how that power shifts.  Basically, the film never seems out of control in relation to how the structure of the film could seem to isolated, much like Bahari.  Instead, this is a film that has a lot of ugly tension, but is always engrossing.  However Stewart envisioned this film, I would like to believe he was more than satisfied with the results, as I was impressed by the directorial flare he put on screen.

Speaking to the story structure and the writing, Rosewater certainly gets a lot out of the material in an effort to essentially create an uplifting drama, but pack it with tension and a very wry sense of humor.  If anything, the only place I found the film to suffer was in the attempts to humanize the interrogators in a way that basically goes nowhere.  One could argue about the way in which abuse is portrayed, but I found Stewart’s abilities as a screenwriter to be strong enough to convey a level of tension and frustration to work more than simply showing us what Bahari had endured in real life.  It also helps that the film is able to find a way to eventually dial down the intensity, by matching it with the sense of hope that comes in the form of well-utilized humor.

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There may be something more to say about how intensive this film is, when it comes to digging into how Iranian politics really played into everything on display in this film.  To that, I can really only say that this feels like a story more about one individual, with true life events serving as a backdrop, rather than the core of the story.  This is a film meant to pull audiences in on an entertainment-based level, rather than serve as a lecture, and I certainly responded in that manner.

Rosewater is not as much a ‘message film’ as some may have expected from a political pundit who handles news from a satirical standpoint, as it is an intimate drama, but it is quite effective at what it is trying to do.  Gael Garcia Bernal turns in a strong lead performance, as he sits in the center of a film that puts his character in the most frustrating kinds of scenarios, where his attempts at reason are hardly recognized, as he battles to hold onto a sense of hope, while striving not to betray his beliefs.  Jon Stewart does not buckle under the pressure to make the film he wanted either, as it shows he has promise as a director who can make a fine character drama, with elements of what it is that drives him in his own regular day job.  As a result, I found myself engrossed by this film and happy to sing its praises.  Rosewater was very fine, indeed.


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Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Clarity/Detail: Rosewater depicts the unfair treatment of a man, but this Blu-ray does proper justice in treating the video with plenty of respect.  Stewart’s film has quite a bit of variety, given the main setting, and you can really see a lot of the details with clear perception.  It makes for a very solid transfer.

Depth: Depth actually plays a solid role here, as you get to see the isolation of Bernal’s character, as he sits alone in a prison cell in various instances.  Other aspects work out in similar regard as well.

Black Levels: Blacks are deep and inky.

Color Reproduction: The film has an unassuming look to it, but colors are bold and pop when necessary.

Flesh Tones: Facial textures stand out quite well, reflecting the characters properly.

Noise/Artifacts: Nothing.



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Audio Format(s): English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French

Dynamics: There is more than just dialogue here, which is well-represented on this disc.  The sounds coming in the form of score, sound effects, and other aspects reflecting the atmosphere of the film does plenty to make this lossless audio track a great and engaging listen.

Low Frequency Extension: There are some moments that give the LFE channel a chance for use.  It comes out very well.

Surround Sound Presentation: The track is balanced and clear, making for a good mix when it comes to the various channels we can hear the various audio elements on.

Dialogue Reproduction: Everyone is coming in loud and clear, whether they are just talking or shouting.



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I guess it would not have been a great advertisement to say, “Over 4 Minutes of Extras,” but that is all we get here, despite the title of each feature suggesting some promise.  Everything amounts to one brief interview divided into small segments and mixed with B-roll footage.  No commentary either makes for an overall disappointing set of extras.

Features Include:

  • Iran’s Controversial Election (HD, 0:48) – A brief focus on what the title suggests.
  • The Story of Maziar Bahari (HD, 0:49) – Another brief look, this time at the film’s lead character.
  • Real Spies Have TV Shows (HD, 0:49) – This brief look is at what got things started.
  • What Happens in New Jersey… (HD, 0:51) – A brief chat about how Maziar attempted to help himself, while imprisoned.
  • A Director’s Perspective (HD, 0:51) – A brief look at Jon Stewart’s work as a first-time director.


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Despite dropping the ball on having a very insightful selection of special features (maybe if the film was more successful at the box office and when it came to awards…), Rosewater is still a solid looking and sounding Blu-ray, which happens to also have a very good film housed on the disc as well.  I was a big fan of the film and would certainly recommend anyone interested to check it out.

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Gamer, Comic Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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