The Mauritanian

Director: Kevin Macdonald

Starring: Tahar Rahim, Jodie Foster, Benedict Cumberbatch, Shailene Woodley, Zachary Levi

Written by: Rory Haines, Sohrab Noshirvani, (and screen story) M.B. Traven, (based upon the book “Guantánamo Diary”) Mohamedou Ould Slahi and Larry Siems

Running Time: 129 mins

Cert: 15

Release date: 2nd April 2021

Each year a theme seems to run through the movies hoping for award recognition. One of the big themes this year is Human Rights. We’ve already had the documentaries, The Dissident and Collective. Now we have The Mauritanian, the story of a man held in Guantánamo Bay, from a director known for outstanding documentaries. This is an important story to be told, but sadly it doesn’t have the same power that the other films have.

After the events of 9/11, Mohamedou Ould Slahi is brought in for questioning. He is sent to Guantánamo Bay, where he is held, interrogated, tortured and almost forgotten. That is until defence attorney Nancy Hollander and her associate Teri Duncan is told of his plight. Knowing that his detention is illegal, the woman becomes an ally to the prisoner but come up against redacted files, falsehoods and lies from the US government but refuse to allow his sentence to go on any longer.

Kevin Macdonald’s feature is a powerful and shocking tale of the false imprisonment of a man who was held because he was allegedly a connection with those responsible for the terror attacks on 9/11. With very little evidence, this man was questioned each day until the army was allowed to interrogate, which led to intimidation, sexual assaults and torture. Slahi’s life was a living hell, and there didn’t seem to be any way he could escape. Defence lawyer Nancy Hollander, whose job was to deal with the government’s injustice, took on the case and was found to be facing an uphill struggle. When prosecuting lawyer Lt. Colonel Stuart Couch, who is hired to stop Hollander, even he sees things that don’t sit right.

Kevin Macdonald’s feature is a powerful and shocking tale of the false imprisonment of a man who was held because he was allegedly a connection with those responsible for the terror attacks on 9/11. With very little evidence, this man was questioned each day until the army was allowed to interrogate, which led to intimidation, sexual assaults and torture. Slahi’s life was a living hell, and there didn’t seem to be any way he could escape. Defence lawyer Nancy Hollander, whose job was to deal with the government’s injustice, took on the case and was found to be facing an uphill struggle. When prosecuting lawyer Lt. Colonel Stuart Couch, who is hired to stop Hollander, even he sees things that don’t sit right.

You have to admire the skill that Macdonald and his cast bring to this important story. One of the better ideas is the use of the screen. The widescreen presentation cuts to Academy (box) whenever Slahi recalls the events in prison. This brings a sense of claustrophobia to the story, as we are closed in. It also makes the moments when Slahi is tortured even more horrifying.

The film’s problem is that while it’s terrible what happened to this man, nothing surprises. We know of what went on at Guantánamo Bay, as it has been well publicised, from the loud rock music and standing in a position that leads to pain. Yet this doesn’t have the impact it really should have. You do feel for this man and what he went through, but it doesn’t have the same punch that events in The Dissident.

The performances, however, are first class. Jodie Foster is back and on form as Nancy Hollander. She brings a level of grace and dignity to her role. She has always been a commanding force on screen, and she does precisely that here. Benedict Cumberbatch delivers another finely tuned performances as Lt. Colonel Stuart Couch. Sadly, Shailene Woodley seems to be underused as Hollander’s assistant, Teri Duncan.

Yet, in the role of Mohamedou Ould Slahi, Tahar Rahim is exceptional. After becoming a force to reckon with in the TV series, The Serpent, this is a very different role. He plays it with complete conviction, delivering a star-making performance, as we see him crumble and suffer in a way no man should. It’s a performance that should have been recognised more by the awards people.

The Mauritanian is a good movie that needed to be made, but it should have been a great movie. While it delivers everything it should, it just doesn’t have the emotional punch of other films out there. A shame that this film could lose it among a strong bunch of movies all battling for the same audience. Still worth looking out for.

4 out of 5

Available now on Amazon Prime.

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