Duration: 02 Hrs 09 Mins
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Director: Kevin Macdonald
Writers: Michael Bronner, Rory Haines, Sohrab Noshirvani
Based On: Guantanamo Diary by Mohamedou Ould Salah
Producers: Adam Ackland, Michael Bloom, Michael Bronner, Leah Clarke, Benedict Cumberbatch, Rose Garnett, Micah Green, Robert A. Halmi, Ryan Heller, Christine Holder, Mark Holder, Zak Kilberg, Beatriz Levin, Lloyd Levin, James Joseph McDonald, Branwen Prestwood Smith, Jim Reeve, Donald Sabourin, Mohamedou Ould Salahi, Larry Siems, Russell Smith, Daniel Steinman, Maria Zuckerman
Music: Tom Hodge
Cinematography: Alwin H. Küchler
Release Date: 19 February 2021 (USA)
Star Cast: Tahar Rahim, Jodie Foster, Benedict Cumberbatch, Shailene Woodley, Stevel Marc, Zachary Levi, Nezar Alderazi, Clayton Boyd, Francis Chouler, Toni Jean Erasmus, Arthur Falko, David Fynn, Melissa Haiden, Evan Hengst, Robert Hobbs, Andre Jacobs, Corey Johnson, Bonko Khoza, Langley Kirkwood, Shane John Kruger, Daniel Kühne, Michael MacKenzie, Matthew Marsh, Darron Meyer, Justine Mitchell, Denis Ménochet, Adam Neill, Meena Rayann, Zak Rowlands, Alaa Safi, Lionel Strasky, Saamer Usmani, Walter van Dyk, Nancy Hollander
Plot: The film ‘The Mauritanian’ opens in November 2001, two months after 9/11, and tells the true story of Mohamedou Ould Salahi (Tahar Rahim), a one-time resistance fighter in Afghanistan. It is when he visits his family in Afghanistan for a wedding celebration, he is called out by Mauritanian authorities to speak to them and the FBI, about his involvement with the 9/11 attacks.
The authorities allow Mohamedou Ould Salahi to drive himself to the meeting location, and he tells his mother that he will be back. But he is accused of involvement and of being an al-Qaeda recruiter. He is then left to languish in the prison in Guantanamo Bay, without trial, for more than 14 years.
Most of the evidence used for detaining Mohamedou Ould Slahi is more presumed than anything: one phone call and money wire to a beloved cousin who happened to be one of Al Qaeda's primary operatives.
It is the story about Mohamedou Ould Salahi’s fight for his freedom, after being detained and imprisoned without charge by the U.S. Government for years.
Review: Director Kevin MacDonald broke through in Hollywood as a documentarian with the exhilarating mountain climbing movie, ‘Touching the Void’. The film used remarkable recreations of mountain climbing to build toward the tragedy and triumph at the heart of that story, and it was good training for his turn to narrative filmmaking. The same documentarian’s eye for storytelling detail is used to good effect in ‘The Mauritanian’.
‘The Mauritanian’ is adapted from Mohamedou Ould Salahi’s book. While behind bars, he wrote his memoir, ‘Guantanamo Diary’. The book was published in January of 2015. Not only did it become an international best-seller, but Mohamedou Ould Salahi became the first detainee to publish a memoir while still being imprisoned. Hence, the film is framed to present his innocence as it is based on his own best-selling memoir.
There is a journalistic quality to the way Kevin MacDonald translates Mohamedou Ould Salahi’s story from page to screen. He knows which parts of the book are important and compelling, and which are necessary for communicating Mohamedou Ould Salahi’s humanity to the audience while reminding us why what happened to him was wrong on a human and legal plane.
Even though September 11th was a heated moment, and the rush to punish those that wronged overcame many people, ‘The Mauritanian’ smartly shows that while staying true to the conviction, 9/11 did not justify abandoning principles.
For instance, the military interrogators torture a confession out of Mohamedou Ould Salahi. They keep him awake for days on end with heavy metal music, they keep him chained standing up but with his head nearly between his knees, and they keep his cell freezing cold with no blankets and withhold even the modest comfort provided by having the Quran in his cell.
Not afraid to criticize George W. Bush’s administration's handling of potential 9/11 suspects, in which Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld authorized the use of torture maneuvers that clearly violated basic human rights, ‘The Mauritanian’ shows how both sides of the political aisle failed to help when innocent folks were being detained because they fit a profile: Muslim.
The film structures Mohamedou Ould Salahi’s story as a legal procedural, and in which the story of the actual prisoner (Tahar Rahim) is kept largely in the background, with less screen time than the lawyer characters (Jodie Foster and Benedict Cumberbatch).
The cast of ‘The Mauritanian’ is uniformly excellent with Tahar Rahim delivering a stirring and soulful performance as Mohamedou Ould Salahi.
Mohamedou Ould Salahi is a sympathetic character, and it won’t be wrong to say that Tahar Rahim has aptly brought the real Mohamedou Ould Salahi’s charms to the screen. At times, he appears to be guilty and then innocent, which keeps the audience somewhat confused.
Even Jodie Foster and Benedict Cumberbatch are fantastic in their roles for this movie, but they could have had a few more scenes together. Nevertheless, the scenes that they do have together are good.
In addition to being a powerfully acted and written piece, ‘The Mauritanian’ proves to be a brilliantly photographed and framed picture as well. Shot by cinematographer Alwin H. Küchler, the film shifts freely between 2.35:1 panoramic widescreen with claustrophobic and gritty-looking flashbacks pillar boxed at 1.33:1. While shifting aspect ratios has become commonplace, the effect here adds to the sense of suffocating imprisonment, making the viewer share the feeling with Mohamedou Ould Salahi of being trapped with no breathing room.
Also, supporting the film’s menacing atmosphere is the original soundtrack by Tom Hodge, who gives the film a somber but hopeful mood, tinted occasionally by bursts of terror.
The only problem with the film is that it is slow, and at times it puts the focus in the wrong place. Also, it doesn’t show much that wasn’t common knowledge already, for those who followed these events.
Overall, ‘The Mauritanian’ is a very sobering tale, it is one of the year’s strongest legal dramas and a still moving true story of one man’s journey through Hell and back, and those who fought to bring his ordeal to light.