January 22nd, 2021
MOVIE: THE MAURITANIAN
STARRING: TAHAR RAHIM, JODIE FOSTER, BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH, SHAILENE WOODLEY
DIRECTOR: KEVIN MACDONALD
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 2 ½ STARS (Out of 4)
As the years go on we begin to enter into a period where the presidential administration of George W. Bush becomes a distant memory. It’s strange to think about how children born after 9/11, 2001 are now 19-years old and have little memory of the trauma from those fateful events. They are the post-9/11 children and now movies such as The Mauritanian are telling stories they may not have been aware of. In that sense, it makes Kevin Macdonald’s film incredibly relevant as a source, but it also feels that it’s been done before. Based on the best-selling memoir Guantanamo Diary by Mohamedou Oul Slahi, The Mauritanian follows his story, being wrongfully detained in Guantanamo prison for over fourteen years without charge, and the horrific experience he went through till his freedom. This narrative tells the story about the process of getting his freedom in a meticulous way, with strong acting performances, and falling short to expand deeper into the characters involved. The Mauritanian is a story worthy of being told, but never delivering the full justice, and closure that this painful moment deserves.
Right off the bat, The Mauritanian might be a better movie if you make it a part of a double feature with 2019’s The Report, which followed the investigation into the CIA’s 9/11 interrogation program, but is also undoubtedly the better movie. With The Mauritanian it feels like Macdonald, writers Michael Bronner, Rory Haines, and Sohrab Noshirvani are trying to fit it all into the bag, but unfortunately all of it doesn’t fit. It begins with Mohamedou (Tahar Rahim) at the wedding of his brother, a big event in Mauritania with family all around, until he is quietly picked up by his government for questioning. Multiple interrogations and then he has a bag over his head, and mysteriously taken to a facility without ever knowing exactly what he’s being charged for. The other side is Nancy Hollander (Jodie Foster), a defense attorney for those less fortunate, with assistant Terri Duncan (Shailene Woodley) gathering information to help fight for Mohamedou. The government attorney is Stuart Couch (a strained southern accented Benedict Cumberbatch) attempting to have enough information and reason to why Mohamedou is guilty. It all circles around moments of egregious torture of a man who can never get back the pain inflicted upon him.
From a structure and performance standpoint, The Mauritanian is good. Foster brings her always A game, playing a role with tense speeches, and a gravitas that carries the character. Woodley is sidelined a bit with general legal speak and a character for Foster to lean on. Cumberbatch is fine, perfectly stiff as the serious general, but his accent is a thing. The biggest highlight is Rahim, who delivers an excellent performance, layered, and deliberate in the pain that Mohamedou experienced. HIs work is a reason to watch The Mauritanian alone.
The problems lie in the narrative alone. Much of this story feels too late to the party, showing the disgraceful torture that, at this point, seems gratuitous and redundant. We’ve seen these stories before in Zero Dark Thirty, documentaries such as Ghosts of Abu Ghraib, or the aforementioned The Report. There’s also an incomplete nature to the story. Lacking in showing how Mohamedou’s imprisonment affects his family, lacking in showing what drives Hollander to defending a person that everyone else believes as guilty, and lacking in a true condemnation for how reckless the U.S. Government was during this era of human atrocities.
On the surface, The Mauritanian is a story that deserves to be heard, and it’s clear that this is a case where the book will be better than the movie. It’s worth seeing for solid performances and a thrilling enough story that never drags. Ultimately, it just feels incomplete. The Mauritanian is another reminder about the atrocious acts of the U.S. government after 9/11, but we shouldn’t need reminders anymore. It should just be known. It’s who we are.
THE MAURITANIAN IS NOW PLAYING IS SELECT THEATERS
Written by: Leo Brady