‘The Mauritanian’ is many things, but an in-depth representation of the main subject and the simmering issues beneath is not one of them. And yet, we say with conviction that it does what it promises: it gives peace and forgiveness a chance. Both to Slahi and to the United States.
Cast & Crew:
Kevin Mcdonald| Director
Benedict Cumberbatch| Actor
Zachary Levi| Actor
Shailene Woodley| Actor
Jodie Foster| Actor
Langley Kirkwood | Actor
Corey Johnson| Actor
This film is based on Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s 2015 memoir ‘Guantánamo Diary,’ a man from Mauritania who was detained at the notorious Guantánamo Bay prison for 14 long years without a trial for allegedly being involved in one of the deadliest terror attacks on America to date, 9/11.
The film begins with a shot of a grand feast in Mauritania, with guests enjoying good food and having a good time until the local cops arrive and take a young Slahi to the police station. “I’ll be right back,” he assures his mother. Slahi will not return to the United States for the next 14 years. ‘The Mauritanian’ is a story of torment and torture, rage and redemption, but most importantly, it’s about a man who went through the gates of hell and emerged triumphant, all smiles while preaching the lesson of humanity and forgiveness. To his tormentors, the people who called his integrity into question, and to himself.
Kevin Mac Donald’s approach to this sensitive subject is humane personified, and his storytelling technique is poignant. He is primarily a documentary filmmaker, but a conversation with his subject convinced him to take a more dramatic approach. It is profitable. Tahar Rahim’s portrayal of a man enduring the wrath of an angry and insecure authoritative body evokes sympathy in the hearts of the viewers. Tahar goes through a dramatic physical transformation to portray the plight of a man who has seen it all—the enhanced interrogation techniques, the good-cop-bad tactic, and the cautious yet caring approach of his lawyers Nancy Hollander (Jodie Foster) and Teri Duncan (Shailene Woodley).
The coercion sequences, which are rendered in psychedelic visual presentation, are offshoots of the reel Slahi’s suspicions of those who want to save him. “Who would you like me to sue today?” When Hollander succumbs to her inner consciousness and admits his innocence, Slahi asks, “God?” That scene is absolutely brilliant. It’s not just Tahar’s portrayal of the helpless prisoner that causes an emotional upheaval in the audience; Jodie Foster’s feisty performance as lawyer Hollander shakes us up and makes us question everything we believe in, and why.
In this legal drama, Benedict Cumberbatch plays stern former Navy man/prosecutor Stu Couch. His brow twitching and unmistakable angst towards the central character are palpable, and Cumberbatch takes to the role like a fish to water. Shailene Woodley is caught in an ethical quandary: should she miss the holidays for a man who may or may not have killed some of her own, or should she go by what she sees; his seemingly doomed fate? Even in her brief appearance, Woodley makes an impression.
‘The Mauritanian’ has a lot of heart, but it’s not without flaws. Macdonald never fully explains why the American government is so harsh on Slahi: a cousin on the wrong side of the law had previously wired some money to him, and he was once at a ‘camp’ in the late 1990s. Furthermore, given his venomous attitude toward prisoner number 760, Stu Couch’s sudden change of heart is rather incomprehensible. Jodie Foster’s emotional breakdown is also worth a frown. It’s simple, convenient, and hurried.
‘The Mauritanian,’ when all is said and done, is a Tahar Rahim and Jodie Foster masterclass in how to approach layered characters. Tahar’s kind eyes and restrained demeanour pierce through your heart, not when he expresses emotions. He almost bursts into tears. Those outbursts of rage that never find a way to be expressed.
‘The Mauritanian’ is many things, but an in-depth representation of the main subject and the simmering issues beneath is not one of them. And yet, we say with conviction that it does what it promises: it gives peace and forgiveness a chance. Both to Slahi and to the United States of America.