In certain circles, the most respected journalist in America today is a comedian - even if Jon Stewart is quick to remind you that he's not a journalist.

In certain circles, the most respected journalist in America today is a comedian - even if Jon Stewart is quick to remind you that he's not a journalist.

Stewart's "Daily Show" satire is often a piercing critique of what passes for journalism in America, but he's also quick with the praise of those who are doing it right. That personal connection is evident in Stewart's debut as a film director.

"Rosewater" tells the true story of Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari (played here by Gael García Bernal). Maziar was covering the 2009 Iranian elections when he was detained by Iranian authorities and accused of being a spy.

When he arrives in his native land, Maziar meets a young man named Davood (Dimitri Leonidas) who introduces him to an educated and young electorate that is hopeful for a life after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

When Ahmadinejad wins re-election in a landslide, allegations of vote tampering lead to massive protests and the rise of the opposition Green Movement.

Maziar's front-row seat for these events is what lands him in solitary confinement, as he's brutally interrogated for months in an effort to get a false confession as a spy.

Stewart's personal connection to Maziar's story came in the form of a "Daily Show" interview with correspondent Jason Jones, which is recreated in "Rosewater" and was used as "evidence" that Maziar was a spy.

Stewart's worldview on politics is evident here, as is his sense of humor (though muted). The fact that this material falls in his wheelhouse helps overcome some of the stumbling of a first-time director, and it's a solid debut overall.

Not only telling the story of Maziar, Stewart also works to establish a view that Iranians are actually human beings like us. Radical concept, I know.

While Stewart has some minor problems with pacing and can't resist the use of dramatic slow motion or sweeping music, he did get a great anchor in Bernal. His onscreen affability is a great way to draw you into his prison plight, and Bernal could be in the year-end acting award consideration. Danish actor Kim Bodnia is also great as Bernal's interrogator.

Side note: Stewart's break from "The Daily Show" to film "Rosewater" led to John Oliver filling in behind the desk and eventually landing his own HBO show. "Rosewater" deserves thanks for that, too.