Give Jon Stewart credit for ambition and guts. Few first-time filmmakers would attempt a project half as improbable or ambitious as "Rosewater," which depicts journalist Maziar Bahari's 2009 imprisonment in Iran after being accused of spying following an appearance on Stewart's "Daily Show."

The movie is sincere and earnest, at its best when Stewart focuses on the poignant bigger picture, valorizing Bahari and the other observers who made great use of social media and the other tools at their disposal to document the Iranian elections and demand freedom.

Stewart, who adapted the screenplay from Bahari's memoir, falters in his depiction of the journalist's four-month stint in prison. He has a tenuous grasp at best on the psychology of the situation. So the dynamic between Bahari (Gael García Bernal) and his interrogator (Kim Bodnia) plays milquetoast and toned down when it should be intense and challenging.

These are extraordinarily complicated scenes, filled with subtle shifts in the power structure and infused with emotions derived from years of personal turmoil for both men. Stewart treats them with as run-of-the-mill docudrama fare, content to merely observe with his camera when it should evoke something more. The tools of cinema offer a great deal of latitude when it comes to depicting the feel of a place, or the emotional truths behind an experience, but Stewart utilizes them in such a straightforward fashion that the stakes rarely seem especially high. It's a shame, because he has a lot to say.

 

Directed by Jon Stewart

Starring Gael García Bernal, Kim Bodnia, Shoreh Aghdashloo

Rated R