The Mauritanian is a 2021 legal drama film directed by Kevin Macdonald based on the 2015 memoir Guantánamo Diary by Mohamedou Ould Salahi, a true story of Salahi’s experience of being held for fourteen years without charge in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. The film stars Jodie Foster, Tahar Rahim, Shailene Woodley, and Benedict Cumberbatch.
Prima facie, this kind of true story is ripe for adaptation and really a no-brainer for film producers. It’s got everything contemporary moviegoers love – injustice, torture and liberal guilt. In addition, there’s enough distance from 9/11 to make a movie like The Mauritanian politically safe enough to release.
The material is strong enough on its own without the screenwriters having to embellish the facts too much to generate audience empathy for Salahi, our main character. In the wrong place at the wrong time, with the wrong associations, Salahi became the scapegoat for the sins of Bin Laden and his lackeys on that fateful day.
Thus, The Mauritanian does come across as a by-the-numbers historical drama film with the expected stellar performances from Foster as human rights lawyer Nancy Hollander and Cumberbatch as Lt. Colonel Stuart Couch, the military prosecutor with a conscience.
What does elevate the movie into an essential viewing experience is Tahar Rahim’s utterly convincing execution of the lead role. If Rahim looks familiar, it’s due to the fact that the French actor has been seen in notable TV series like The Looming Tower and The Serpent.
To its credit, The Mauritanian does not lean too heavily into its inditement on American hypocrisy but instead highlights the indomitable strength of the human spirit as epitomised by Salahi’s ability to survive over 14 years of unjust incarceration for crimes he did not commit. Essential viewing.
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