Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
Rosewater Movie Poster Image
Fascinating but intense drama about geopolitics.
  • R
  • 2014
  • 103 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Nobody can defeat you unless you let them, and you're a lot stronger than you think you are, especially if you hold on to humor and hope. Illustrates the importance of democracy and having a voice in how your country is governed -- and of not being afraid to tell the truth and to report the truth (i.e. ethical journalism).

Positive Role Models & Representations

Maziar is an excellent role model -- principled and honest. As a journalist, he takes his job seriously and responsibly.


News footage includes disturbing images of militia hitting people with sticks and shooting into crowds, with bloody bodies shown on the streets. A prisoner is subjected to mental, emotional, and physical abuse under interrogation. In one scene, a man beats him up, kicking him while he's down. In another, he's made to believe he's about to be shot (it's a particularly harrowing moment).


Some flirtatious banter between husband and wife, plus other tender moments. A character describes sexy massages. A character is asked whether his Western magazines and movies are "porn."


Strong but relatively infrequent language includes multiple uses of both "s--t" and "f--k." Also "a--hole."


Brands/products seen or mentioned include Facebook, Twitter, Apple, Newsweek, Honda, and Nescafe.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A journalist is shown taking swigs out of a bottle after a particularly hard time. Some social drinking. Discussion of a leader possibly giving addicts money to buy opium.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Rosewater, based on a memoir by journalist Maziar Bahari and written and directed by The Daily Show's Jon Stewart, has some disturbing moments; a big chunk of the movie takes place in a prison, where detainees are beaten and mentally tortured. In a particularly harrowing sequence, the main character is led to believe that he's going to be shot. Other scenes are comprised of real-life news footage that shows demonstrators clashing with military personnel, who hit, kick, and shoot at them. There's some swearing, primarily "sh-t" and "f--k," and social drinking. Although the story is intense, its messages about finding personal strength and overcoming adversity are definitely worthwhile.

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What's the story?

In June 2009, Maziar Bahari, a freelancer for Newsweek magazine, was arrested in Tehran on the heels of a historic election, accused of being a spy and fomenting dissatisfaction among Iranians and in the global community -- in part through a comedic appearance on Comedy Central's The Daily Show. His plight is chronicled in ROSEWATER by first-time director Jon Stewart, The Daily Show's host. For 118 days, Bahari (Gael Garcia Bernal) was jailed, his inner resolve tested beyond its usual limits, his mind tortured, his body beaten. His captors wouldn't set him free -- despite the fact that he had the credentials to cover the election and quantifiable proof he wasn't a double agent -- unless he signed a bogus confession. And even then, there were no guarantees.

Is it any good?

It makes sense that the compelling Rosewater is Jon Stewart's first foray into film direction. It combines so much of what his series, The Daily Show, explores: geopolitics, the absurdity of evil, and the real people behind political ideology. Here, Stewart covers the same ground with the same humanity and humor he exhibits in his TV series -- to overall success.

First, the film tells what could easily have been an overly intellectualized story with lots of heart, a reminder that the bluster of politics can drown out the beating hearts of the people it affects. Second, it does this with artistry -- there's a particular scene in which Bahari dances in a jail cell to a Leonard Cohen song, and it's resplendent in hope and transcendent in feel. But Stewart takes shortcuts, too, as in one scene where storefronts are electrified with Bahari's ideas, like a Daily Show segment writ large. (Another example: the ponderous rosewater references.) But there's no mistaking Stewart's sure, steady imprint, and for this, Rosewater viewers are grateful.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about whether Rosewater succeeds in translating complex subjects -- international conflict, local politics, the state of journalism and diplomacy, all rolled into one -- onto the screen. What are the challenges faced by movies in this genre?

  • How does Maziar see Iran before its elections -- and after? Does he change? How can the audience tell he has changed?

  • Talk to your kids about how politics -- and what they're used to justify -- vary around the world. How do teens think they'd fare living in another country, with different rules and expectations?

  • Writer/director Stewart is best known for doing the "fake news" -- how is this a departure for him? Does his involvement make you more or less likely to take the movie seriously?

Movie details

  • In theaters: November 14, 2014
  • On DVD or streaming: February 10, 2015
  • Cast: Gael Garcia Bernal
  • Director: Jon Stewart
  • Studio: Open Road Films
  • Genre: Drama
  • Run time: 103 minutes
  • MPAA rating: R
  • MPAA explanation: language including some crude references, and violent content
  • Last updated: September 20, 2019

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