Jon Stewart’s debut as writer-director almost works, and it’s not quite good, but it’s certainly better than a rainy day flick. Choosing to tackle the weighty subject of journalist Maziar Bahari (an excellent Gael Garcia Bernal) and his capture and torture at the hands of the Iranian government after the 2009 elections, Stewart hasn’t mastered the shifts in tone for cinema the way he has for The Daily Show.

Rosewater swings uneasily back and forth between hard drama, silly comedy, social commentary and even fantasy (a few scenes depict Bahari’s early life appearing on the sides of buildings as he walks past them, as if the buildings are movie screens). Bernal brings it back to center, and there’s a wonderful (and terrifying) performance by Kim Bodnia as the so-called specialist who tortures and cajoles Bahari.

But the tone is off, though there are good moments. For example, Bahari, past the point of breaking, realizes the actions against him are a farce, and so he begins telling his captors how New Jersey is the capital of erotic massage. It’s funny, and it happens during a lull in the prison scenes. Where Stewart goes next will be worth watching; Rosewater is a decent first effort.

 

ROSEWATER

Directed by Jon Stewart

With Bernal, Bodnia, and Shohreh Aghdashloo

UA DeVargas 6

R

103 min.