The Mauritanian Can Be Captivating

The Stream: Half of this true account is a standard legal drama.

The Big Screen: Half of this true account is a harrowing tale of perseverance in the face of injustice.

The Final Bill: While imbalanced between it’s two halves, the engrossing parts outweigh the more mundane ones.

– Trip Fontaine
Director: Kevin Macdonald
Writers: Michael Bronner (screen story) (as M.B. Traven), Michael Bronner (screenplay) (as M.B. Traven) | 2 more credits »
Stars: Shailene WoodleyJodie FosterBenedict Cumberbatch, Tahar Rahim | See full cast & crew »
Genre: DramaThriller
Rating: R
Runtime: 2 hours 5 minutes
Platform: Released in theaters Feb. 12, 2021

Peace be unto you, Streamers! This weekend some new movies are coming at you that we’ve heard a lot of buzz about. I was able to catch an early screening of one I didn’t know much about, The Mauritanian. Tahar Rahim and Jodie Foster were recently nominated for Golden Globes for their performances in this film, so there must be something here, right? Here’s how I see it.

A brief synopsis goes something like this: from the best-selling memoir “Guantánamo Diary” by Mohamedou Ould Slahi. The Mauritanian tells the harrowing account of Slahi, who spent years imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay without being charged, fighting for his freedom from captivity with the help of a dogged defense attorney, Nancy Hollander, and her associate, Teri Duncan. Slahi was accused, but never charged, of participating in the orchestration of the attack on the United Stated on September 11, 2001. Slahi and his attorneys have to fight the United States Government in order to uncover the truth about his imprisonment and eventually for his release, meeting multiple roadblocks and seemingly insurmountable odds.

Kevin Macdonald directs what is ultimately a standard legal drama with only the added bonus that this film is based on a true story. The movie hits all of the beats of one of those legal dramas including an emotional courtroom speech. It’s not too cliched, but it gets close. Macdonald uses flashbacks and Slahi’s own words to depict his account of how he ended up at Guantanamo, which are the parts that focus squarely on Tahar Rahim as Slahi. These are the most emotional and engrossing parts. The other half of the movie takes place in the present day as Hollander, as played by Jodie Foster, navigates the complicated system that has held Slahi without charges for year. These parts are less interesting because from the outset of the movie the innocence of Slahi is assumed and all sympathies are with him. The United States Government is essentially our big bad villain in this story. That’s fine for the hindsight of 2020/2021, but there must have been more moral conflicts at the time when these events actually occurred. Nevertheless, what Slahi endured was devastating and embarrassing for the world’s leading democracy.

On the performance front, Tahar Rahim is great in this film. I understand why the Golden Globes nominated him in the Best Actor race. He projects such sincerity and warmth. He also depicts the endurance and perseverance that must have been necessary for Slahi. I haven’t seen Rahim in anything before, but he’s one to look out for. Jodie Foster is also good as Slahi’s lawyer. Foster has a competence and steeliness that this attorney would have needed. It must have been difficult walking into Guantanamo to defend an accused terrorist and Foster show the steadfast spirit of the woman who took this on. Even though the legal parts were less interesting to me, it does not take away from Foster’s very good work throughout the film.

S2S: Official Rating Scale

The Mauritanian is a good movie. While one half of it is more interesting than the other, the interesting half is very much worthwhile and the less interesting half isn’t dreadfully boring. On balance, I say it is worth a bowl of popcorn. Please be warned that some of The Mauritanian is not for the feint of heart.

P.S. I’m an attorney during the day which is partly why the legal part is boring to me.