“Do you remember where you were during 9/11?” Most of us still do. Whether it was at home, being at work or school, we will never forget it. It was a life-changing day for everyone and for America in general. The country started to hunt down and punish the terrorists responsible for the attack. During those investigations, every link to the 9/11 attacks was cause to imprison people, even without a fair trial.
Sadly, Mohamedou Ould Slahi was one of them as he was locked up in the U.S. military’s Guantanamo Bay without being charged with anything. His memoir “Guantánamo Diary” is now brought to the screen by director Kevin Macdonald (“Black Sea”, “The Last King of Scotland”). While the premise is perfect for an awe-inspiring film, “The Mauritanian” itself becomes just a decent movie. Sadly, it lacks some emotions but it gives Tahar Rahim and Jodie Foster the opportunity to shine.
Right from the beginning, you get the ‘based on real-life events’ warning, which is very effective. Not only because the heartbreaking story of Slahi is one we need to know (because many of us don’t know it) but also because the movie has a much bigger impact when you know it’s based on true happenings.
At first, you see happy family moments but it doesn’t take long before you watch Mohamedou Ould Slahi (Tahar Rahim) being captured by the U.S. government. He’s being sent to Guantanamo Bay without any actual charges.
After being in prison for over a decade, he’s losing hope for freedom. His last straw to freedom is seeking the help of defence attorney Nancy Hollander (Jodie Foster) and associate Teri Duncan (Shailene Woodley). The two women are extremely passionate about fighting for justice.
Still, their fight doesn’t go as far as it should be due to one-sided America, their “unjustice” system and military prosecutor Lt. Colonel Stuart Couch (Benedict Cumberbatch), who would love nothing more than for Slahi to spend the rest of his life in prison.
Hollander and Duncan get redacted documents and no help from the country, the prosecutor receives the complete documents and all the help he wants. This case looks like a won battle for America even before it starts. It doesn’t take long before a conspiracy theory is being unravelled but in whose favour?
You might think that “The Mauritanian” is again one of those “an innocent guy battling for his freedom” movies. While it could certainly be classified in that category, the film itself feels extremely personal due to the authentic and sincere story. The up-close effect could have a much bigger impact if the execution of the movie was handled with a bit more care.
While 9/11 was the start of Slahi’s imprisonment, his story and “The Mauritanian” focus on the human element of the aftermath instead of on the attack. Therefore this movie is almost completely filled with conversations. Sadly, those conversations aren’t very impactful and emotional due to the sluggish dialogue.
The pace increases during the movie, but in general, the conversations lack a bit of punch and cannot hit the audience with much-needed emotions. Some scenes also rely on body language only, but sadly, the facial expressions don’t take away the awkward silences. Music would have been most welcome during those scenes, whether it would have been a more tense or more emotional score.
What keeps this movie going are the stunning acting performances from Rahim and Foster. “The Mauritanian” is Rahim (“A Prophet”, “Black Gold”) his time to shine as he shows every emotion on the spectrum. Whether it’s desperation and anger or also hope and love, he brings Slahi’s feelings over to the audience perfectly.
There are also many impressive scenes that aren’t for the faint-hearted and that show the inhumane times Slahi faced. It’s during those that Rahim excels on both emotional and physical level. The most touching moments are, without a doubt, the ones between Rahim and Foster (“Hotel Artemis“, “Wade In The Water”) as is equally impressive as the fierce, determined, loving and caring attorney.
Alongside Foster, we also see Woodley (“The Flood”, “Adrift”), who gives an excellent performance, as both women have incredible chemistry between them. While Cumberbatch (“1917“, “Avengers: Infinity War“) is a little bit off point at the beginning (maybe because of the accent), he pulls himself back up during the movie and starts to put on a believable performance. There’s also the wonderful and more supporting performance of Zachary Levi (“Shazam!“, “Thor: Ragnarok“)
There’s always a risk when you decide to jump back and forth in between the past and present by using very fast-paced editing, but in this case, it works as the audience can discover the events the same way both the prosecution and the defence do. It establishes the connection between the audience and Slahi and gets the conversation going.
While the dialogues and conversations could have used a bit more emotions and human feelings, Rahim and Foster’s extraordinary performances and the smart editing make sure that “The Mauritanian” is worth the watch.
“The Mauritanian” is available on Amazon Prime Video from the 1st of April.