The Mauritanian: Film Review

The Mauritanian

The Mauritanian scored five BAFTA nominations – including Best Film and Outstanding British Film – but came away with none for the Oscars, which would suggest that it has gone down better with some voting bodies than others. Having now seen the film myself, I can understand the performance nominations but the film itself is lacking.

The film tells the story of Mohamedou Ould Salahi (Tahar Rahim), who was detained in Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba without charge from 2002 until his release in 2016. He was suspected to be the head recruiter for 9/11 in Germany, a member of Al-Qaeda, and a friend of Osama Bin Laden. After a German newspaper reports that Salahi is imprisoned in “Gitmo” in February 2005, American lawyer Nancy Hollander (Jodie Foster) and her associate Teri Duncan (Shailene Woodley) decide to take up his case and pursue habeas corpus proceedings so a court can determine if his detention is lawful. However, they face many obstacles, including criticism for representing a presumed terrorist and the military heavily redacting almost every piece of useful information they need.

The facts of what happened to Salahi make me angry, upset, and sick to my stomach, yet Kevin Macdonald‘s film didn’t make me feel those things. I should have come away feeling more emotional, more outraged, and frustrated but it didn’t evoke those feelings in me. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t completely unaffected by scenes depicting Salahi being tortured in disgusting inhumane ways – they were incredibly distressing and uncomfortable to watch – but the focus is largely on Hollander and her fight to get paperwork clearance to pursue his case rather than us getting to know Salahi. I found the ending slightly disappointing too – I thought we were going to watch the trial play out (the reason behind that soon makes sense, but the expectation was still there) and thought there would be more to it.

Rahim is astonishing in this role and thoroughly deserves his BAFTA and Golden Globe nominations. He impressively portrays a person who is desperate, hopeless, losing the plot, and on their lowest ebb. He elevates the material and makes the torture scenes all the more devastating. Foster is well cast as the polished, professional and feisty Nancy, who has no issue standing up for a person’s right to legal representation, even if that person might be a terrorist. Woodley’s Teri is very different – she is morally conflicted about the case and is feeling the pressure. Benedict Cumberbatch provides solid support as military prosecutor, Lt. Colonel Stuart Couch, who stands by his morals and Christian beliefs when confronted with the distressing information he uncovers, with the reluctant help of his buddy Neil (Zachary Levi).

Given the subject matter, The Mauritanian is nowhere near as gripping as it should be. The story is shocking and interesting, no doubt about that, but the film itself didn’t reel me in; I had to make a conscious effort to concentrate on it. It reminded me a lot of 2019’s The Report – which deals with the CIA’s use of torture after 9/11 – and that film handled the subject better.

On Amazon Prime Video from 1st April

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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