11/17/2014 05:27 pm ET Updated Jan 17, 2015

Popcorn Preview: Rosewater

Rosewater (2014)
Cast includes: Gael García Bernal (The Motorcycle Diaries), Kim Bodnia (In China They Eat Dogs), Claire Foy (Season of the Witch), Shohreh Aghdashloo (House of Sand and Fog)
Writer/Director: Jon Stewart (The Daily Show)
Genre: Drama | Biography (103 minutes) Based on a memoir by Maziar Bahari

The smell of rosewater and sweat always brought back fond memories of prayers in the mosque. Mazier Bahari is an Iranian-born journalist based in London. In Tehran June 21, 2009, Mazier was asleep in his childhood room in his mother's home when he was awakened and told to get dressed. Before handcuffing and taking him away, the police went through his possessions... so many films! "Is this porno?" "No, it's The Sopranos," said Mazier. "It's porno," they exclaimed... as they also did with other videos. Eleven days ago, Mazier was in London with his pregnant wife. He took the assignment of covering the Iranian election for Newsweek because they could use the cash. He assured Paola he'd only be gone a week.

Upon arrival in Tehran, Mazier's taxi driver, Davood, turned out to be especially game to be his driver for the week and show him "what was really going on." That's part of the reason Mazier found a story that couldn't be told in just a week. To be fair, Mazier wasn't naïve. His father had been imprisoned for 6 years in the 50s, and his sister Maryam had been a political prisoner in the 80s. In fact, it was Maryam who encouraged Mazier's love of film... a window on the world. In 2009, Mazier wasn't in Iran on a political agenda... he was only there to report on the election... and by all accounts, it looked like Mousavi was going to beat Ahmadinejad. But that wasn't how it turned out. "Just because you can't see the cockroaches doesn't mean they're not there," said Davood. That's when Mazier's assignment got more interesting... and more dangerous. He naturally assumed that his reporting about the Green Revolution was the reason for his arrest and imprisonment at the infamous Evin Prison. He laughed when his "specialist" played videos of the incriminating evidence they had on him... an appearance in a field piece on The Daily Show... proof that he was a Spy! "Why would a spy have a TV show?!" Mazier exclaimed. His specialist... whom Mazier would later dub "Rosewater" because of his cologne... failed to see the irony. Mazier soon realized he wasn't going home any time soon.

Solitary confinement is one of the cruelest punishments of all... being left alone with nothing but your thoughts, fears and boredom. The boredom was so intense that Mazier almost welcomed sessions with Rosewater. But that said, Rosewater is not a boring movie. Although much of the film takes place in a small empty cell, first-time director Jon Stewart knows how to keep a story engaging and entertaining. There's no laugh-out-loud humor like we're used to from The Daily Show host, but there is humor... the kind that comes from the irony under the violence and cruelty. He had good material to work with because Mazier wrote a memoir, "Then They Came for Me," upon his release. It wasn't just about what was done to him but about how he navigated and negotiated the menace of the corrupt system and the people who worked the system. "They know they cannot win."

3 popped kernels (Scale: 0-4)
The true story of a journalist for Newsweek imprisoned in Iran for being a spy
Popcorn Profile
Rated: R Violence
Audience: Grown-ups
Gender Style: Neutral
Distribution: Mainstream Limited Release
Mood: Sober
Tempo: Cruises Comfortably
Visual Style: Unvarnished Realism
Nutshell: Political prisoner
Language: True to life
Social Significance: Thought Provoking