Movie review: The Mauritanian
There are many things going for The Mauritanian.
Based on the best-selling memoir Guantanamo Diary by Mohamedou Ould Slahi, it tells the remarkable true story of his fight for freedom after being held for 14 years without charge in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.
It is directed by Kevin Macdonald (The Last King Of Scotland, State Of Play), who has a reputation for thought-provoking, hard-hitting, politically charged dramas and documentaries that also entertain.
Leads Tahar Rahim and Jodie Foster were nominated at the recent Golden Globes (with the latter winning), but they were bizarrely snubbed by the Oscars.
You will remain engaged throughout for all these reasons, not to mention it is a story with a hot-button subject that needs to be told.
But because it also attempts to cover geopolitical commentary on the importance of the rule of law and condemnation of extremism of all kinds, the injustice of physical and psychological torture of the incarcerated, and procedural aspects of the legal case, The Mauritanian ends up spreading itself a little thin. The resulting product comes across as generic and not as edge-of-your-seat as hoped.
So even as it aims to be an inspiring and uplifting account of survival against all odds and about the triumph of the human spirit, you do not feel as moved as you are supposed to.
Thankfully, the movie is ably led by Rahim, a French actor of Algerian descent who previously worked with Macdonald on 2011's The Eagle, as the titular character.
His is a performance with depth and range, but largely overlooked this awards season. It is also a treat watching Foster, as Mohamedou's relentless, hard-as-nails human rights lawyer, go all out to secure his release.
Her controversial advocacy amid a post-9/11 witch-hunt, along with evidence uncovered by a top military prosecutor (Benedict Cumberbatch, complete with a thick Southern accent), uncovers uncomfortable truths about how desperate the US government was to find a scapegoat and the fear impulse that took over the American psyche.
One wishes she had more scenes with Cumberbatch or a good old courtroom showdown, but even that tease ends up being a bit of a letdown.
MOVIE: The Mauritanian
STARRING: Tahar Rahim, Jodie Foster, Benedict Cumberbatch, Shailene Woodley
DIRECTOR: Kevin Macdonald
THE SKINNY: In the aftermath of 9/11, Mohamedou Ould Slahi (Tahar Rahim) from Mauritania is detained and imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay for years without charge or trial for being a suspected Al-Qaeda recruiter. But he eventually finds an ally in defence attorney Nancy Hollander (Jodie Foster), who battles the US government in a fight for justice and uncovers a shocking conspiracy.