Jodie Foster stars in this true to life political thriller as a Defence Attorney Nancy Hollander, with Shailene Woodley alongside her as her legal aid Teri Duncan. The man they defend is the titular Mauritanian named Mohamedou Ould Slahi (played by Tahar Rahim) who has been locked up in Guantanamo Bay for several years. The reason he's there is because he's been accused of helping to plan the tragic 9/11 attacks, but he's never been formally charged with any such crime. Coming in to prosecute Slahi is Benedict Cumberbatch as Stuart Couch, a military attorney who lost a close friend and colleague in the 2001 atrocities. The film follows all three sides as the truth of Slahi's story is revealed, alongside the questionable methods used in the infamous Cuban internment camp.
The Mauritanian covers very similar ground to the recent Amazon Prime original The Report. However, where The Report takes a much more general look at what was done in the name of security by America's intelligence community, Kevin MacDonald's film is a lot more personal. You experience all the vicious interrogations and the horrific torture methods through the eyes of Slahi, and it can sometimes be quite hard to watch. While the directing and writing of The Mauritanian is great throughout the runtime – with creative aspect ratio changes to denote time changes – the film shows off its true colours when depicting the Guantanamo Bay Experience. All of the scenes within the camp, but especially the ones closer to the end, are fantastically visceral and gruelling.
The whole cast bring solid performances in this picture. Benedict Cumberbatch's American accent might throw you off slightly at the beginning but it grows on you. Cumberbatch's character definitely has the best arc and his scenes are often the best in terms of story. Jodie Foster is great as usual, her performance feels like what we would see, were she to return as Clarice Starling. She's very confident and her charisma leaks off the screen. The real star making performance though comes from Tahar Rahim. Though the things that are done to Slahi are horrible, he continues to be a charming and hopeful personality and is always a joy to watch. This also means it's all the more painful to watch him in the nastiest scenes. He perfectly captures this humble but troubled individual and one can hope that we'll be able to see him in more projects to come.
A mix of great directing, cinematography, editing and acting makes for a really good true story adaptation. A common criticism of a lot of exposé films like The Report, The Post or even Spotlight is that these stories would probably be better served as documentaries. This is fair enough and though the story of Mohamedou Slahi would have made for a fantastic documentary, it would be hard to capture the terror of some of those torture scenes in such an informative medium. Nevertheless, Kevin MacDonald's The Mauritanian is what we have for now and it's well worth your time, though it's not recommended for the faint hearted.
The Mauritanian will be released on Amazon Prime on April 1st 2021
Dir: Kevin MacDonald
Scr: Michael Bonner, Rory Haines, Sohrab Noshirvani
Cast: Jodie Foster, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tahar Rahim, Shailene Woodley, Zachary Levi
Prd: Adam Ackland, Michael Bronner, Leah Clarke, Benedict Cumberbatch, Christine Holder, Mark Holder
DOP: Alwin H. Kuchler
Music: Tom Hodge
Runtime: 2hrs 8mins