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the mauritanian

★★★★

director: Kevin Macdonald (the last king of scotland, state of play)

starring: tahar rahim, jodie foster, shailene woodley and benedict cumberbatch

 

REVIEWER: lyall carter

A defense attorney, her associate and a military prosecutor uncover a far-reaching conspiracy while investigating the case of a suspected 9/11 terrorist imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for six years.

It’s a little surreal watching films based on historical events that you remember and lived through. Even though I was a high schooler post 9/11 I still kind of remember the scandal of Guantanamo Bay but not in a lot of detail. But this film really opens your eyes up to the atrocities of that place. The Mauritanian is a slick, slow burning political and legal thriller that will inform and horrify with outstanding performances from Rahim and Foster.

 

Directed by Kevin Macdonald and based on the best-selling memoir “Guantánamo Diary'' by Mohamedou Ould Slahi, The Mauritanian is the inspiring true story of Slahi’s fight for freedom after being detained and imprisoned without charge by the U.S. Government for years. Alone and afraid, Slahi (Tahar Rahim) finds allies in defense attorney Nancy Hollander (Jodie Foster) and her associate Teri Duncan (Shailene Woodley) who battle the U.S. Government in a fight for justice that tests their commitment to the law and their client at every turn. Their controversial advocacy, along with evidence uncovered by a formidable military prosecutor, Lt. Colonel Stuart Couch (Benedict Cumberbatch), reveals shocking truths and ultimately proves that the human spirit cannot be locked up.

 

I’ve gotta hand it to Amazon Prime - it’s produced and distributed some top quality films in the last six months and The Mauritanian is no different. Great stories, wonderfully crafted and masterfully acted - if you’re a film nerd like me, you need to get on board. Also the perfect companion piece for this film, The Report, is also streaming on Amazon Prime.  

 

Even though its run time comes in at just over two hours, The Mauritanian isn’t your fast paced thriller. It takes its time unfolding and constructing its narrative, allowing the audience to see and experience Slahi’s life before and during his imprisonment. This isn’t always an easy watch with some torture scenes leaving me to watch the unfolding horror from behind my hand covered face. 

 

The film is crafted in such a way that it doesn’t lay all of its cards out on the table - there is doubt surrounding Slahi’s guilt or innocence, his supposed confessions and the due legal process that he is denied. It masterfully draws you deep into Salhi’s story and leaves you in no doubt who you should be rooting for. There is also a subtle dig at the overarching political climate in America despite what party holds the presidency that is worth pondering. 

 

Towards the middle of the film it appears to lose a little narrative direction and impetus but Macdonald drives it home in the final act with scenes and details that will horrify and leave you as mad as hell.

 

How Tahar Rahim could be overlooked for an Oscar nomination for his performance as Slahi is beyond me. Not only did he put his body through hell for the role, but he leaves every emotion possible in the arena. It’s a masterful performance literally filled with blood, sweat and tears. 

 

The Mauritanian is a welcome return to the screen for Jodie Foster who has largely been absent from the silver screen for nearly a decade. Here she delivers another masterful performance filled with grit, grace and empathy. There aren’t many actors who can deliver lines like  “When I stand by my client and I insist that he get a fair hearing, I'm not just defending him, I'm defending you and me. The constitution doesn't have an asterisk at the end that says: ‘Terms and conditions apply’” with such power and also so much emotion. 

 

The Mauritanian is a slick, slow burning political and legal thriller that will inform and horrify with outstanding performances from Rahim and Foster.

★★★★