June 17, 2021 559 2 Comments
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A detainee at the U.S military’s Guantanamo Bay detention center is held without charges for over a decade and seeks help from a defense attorney for his release.
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As I wrote in countless other reviews of the same genre, I mostly enjoy movies “based on a true story” since these almost always accomplish my main expectations: to be enlightened on an event or subject matter I didn’t know (much) about. The real-life story of Mohamedou Ould Slahi was obviously unknown to me at the time of this viewing, but The Mauritanian does a great job in telling his shocking, insane, unbelievable life at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. The existence of this outside-the-law prison still baffles me to this day. Two decades into the XXI century and humanity still finds a way of immorally and illegally destroying the most basic of human rights.
Kevin Macdonald, a director who’s probably more recognized for his documentaries than his feature films, offers a straightforward adaptation of the protagonist’s memoir, focusing on the main narrative without letting too much of the typical Hollywood melodrama get its generic, diminishing share. It follows the usual formula when it comes to this type of movie, and its technical attributes aren’t distractingly flashy or overwhelming, which might be the best compliment I have to give The Mauritanian. Its story alone is interesting enough, so I deeply appreciate that Macdonald used his doc-experience to produce this film since it could have easily been a regular documentary – and in some ways, it’s very similar to one.
The screenplay written by M.B. Traven, Rory Haines, and Sohrab Noshirvani is quite captivating throughout most of the runtime, but it does lose a bit of steam due to some unnecessary, unimpactful sequences. During many moments, the writers and Macdonald make their point come across efficiently, but these scenes keep going for a few extra minutes that don’t really add anything new to the story, the characters, or the atmosphere. Despite the main narrative being about Slahi, these subplots involving secondary characters are far from being remotely interesting. If not for an always captivating Benedict Cumberbatch and a charming Shailene Woodley, some of these storylines could have hurt the movie a lot more.
One of the most important moments of the film occurs at the beginning of the third act. While it’s vital for the audience to experience the same horrors that Slahi did, this overlong sequence goes from purely shocking to genuinely uncomfortable to the point of some viewers actually skipping the whole thing. It falls into the issue above of not knowing when to end a scene, extending it too much, consequently increasing the already substantial runtime. Nevertheless, I remained wholly concentrated on the central story, which is partially due to the outstanding performances from Jodie Foster and especially Tahar Rahim.
The former delivers a truly remarkable display by interpreting Nancy Hollander, a lawyer who raises the most common moral dilemma in the respective area of profession. Does everyone – literally everyone – deserve the same human rights? Or are there exceptions, such as terrorists or rapists? Foster beautifully incorporates that challenging task of defending someone who 99.9% of the world would refuse to even talk to, let alone risk their life and reputation to defend him. However, in the end, it’s Rahim’s award-worthy, emotionally powerful physical performance that steals the spotlight. From his look of desperation to his never-ending hope that justice would be made, it’s impossible not to feel for Slahi and root for his freedom.
The Mauritanian is one of those “based on true events” movies that will remain in my memory for quite some time. The must-watch, shocking, real-life story of Mohamedou Ould Slahi, who received unbelievably unfair, immoral, and illegal treatment by the U.S. government, is told through a formulaic yet efficient screenplay, placing the spotlight on Tahar Rahim’s exceptional, award-worthy performance. Kevin Macdonald employs non-distracting storytelling and filmmaking methods, allowing the main focus to be on Slahi himself instead of flashy visuals or weird camera work. Despite being mostly successful in this attempt, it still loses some of its energy and overall interest by overextending irrelevant scenes featuring secondary characters. Jodie Foster also delivers an incredibly captivating interpretation of a lawyer who never gives up on her own principles and morals. It might follow the generic structure of other films in the genre, but it accomplishes its mission of bringing this story into the world without any restraints. I recommend it but beware of a violent and long torture sequence that could bother some of the more sensitive viewers.
Based on the New York Times best-selling memoir “Guantánamo Diary” by Mohamedou Ould Slahi, “The Mauritanian” tells the true story of a man who spent 14 years of his life imprisoned without charges at the notorious United States military detention facility. The film is a standard legal drama that focuses more on the man and his case rather than the atrocities that were levied against him. It still reinforces what most of us already know: Gitmo was a terrible, terrible place.
Detained on the suspicion that he was connected to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Slahi (Tahar Rahim) was held by the U.S. government for over a decade. Wanting a challenge, social justice attorney Nancy Hollander (Jodie Foster) and her associate Teri Duncan (Shailene Woodley) asked for the chance to serve as defense lawyers for the man. The two advocates were shocked to learn that the only “evidence” the United States could produce was as forced confession that was coerced after months of torture to the inmate. Even the military prosecutor Lt. Colonel Stuart Couch (Benedict Cumberbatch) resigned himself from the case.
You could dismiss this as just another Gitmo movie, and you wouldn’t be wrong. It fades into the background of other similarly-themed big screen dramas, but the limited focus on one man works in the film’s favor. Foster and Rahim give effective performances, and the talent of the cast gives the film an edge. The majority of the story is about the legal team’s efforts to free Slahi from the prison, but watching characters sort through boxes of redacted material isn’t the most entertaining.
Director Kevin Macdonald touches on the emotional toll that comes from representing an accused terrorist, and Cumberbatch has his stand-up-and-applaud moment when he resigns from the case because it’s the right thing to do. But much of this content is overshadowed by the re-enactments of abuse Slahi faced, including beatings, gang rape, isolation, sleep deprivation, water boarding, and spending many nights shackled naked to the floor. This film will make you angry and sad, especially when you consider that Slahi was one of the few individuals held in Guantanamo whom U.S. officials actually acknowledge had been tortured.
“The Mauritanian” probably won’t stand the test of time as a historical document, but it is a film that will intrigue those interested in Gitmo and our government’s policies after 9/11.