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With: Tahar Rahim, Jodie Foster, Benedict Cumberbatch, Shailene Woodley, Saamer Usmani
Written by: M.B. Traven, Rory Haines, Sohrab Noshirvani, story by M.B. Traven, based on a book by Mohamedou Ould Slahi
Directed by: Kevin Macdonald
MPAA Rating: R for violence including a sexual assault, and language
Running Time: 129
Date: 02/12/2021

The Mauritanian (2021)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Gitmo Memo

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Based on harrowing true events, The Mauritanian has too many moving parts that don't really move much, and it never feels very important nor very emotional, but the fine cast at least makes it watchable.

Mohamedou Ould Salahi (Tahar Rahim) is taken from his home and eventually winds up imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay, accused of being one of the architects of the 9/11 attacks, but not charged. After three years, lawyer Nancy Hollander (Jodie Foster) decides to take his case, and brings along junior associate Teri Duncan (Shailene Woodley) as a translator and assistant.

Lt. Col. Stuart Couch (Benedict Cumberbatch), who lost an old Marine buddy in the 9/11 attacks, is recruited to prosecute Salahi. As all the parties dig into the case, they begin to find corruption running deeper and darker than anyone imagined.

Directed by Oscar-winning documentarian Kevin Macdonald (One Day in September), The Mauritanian feels somewhat similar to his earlier based-on-a-true-story drama, The Last King of Scotland. It's professional and well-acted, but rather blandly serious, and without much personality. At least this one makes Salahi something of a major character, with his own agenda, rather than someone who only appears through the eyes of white characters. And Rahim (best known for the Oscar-nominated French movie A Prophet) is strikingly good.

Foster plays Hollander with no-nonsense spunk, having a little fun shooting wry little grins at the other characters who can't believe that she can pull this off. Cumberbatch shows up with a surprising Southern accent, but projects decency and goodness, even though he starts the story from a place of revenge, and on the "wrong" side.

Indeed, The Mauritanian seems to assume that Salahi is innocent, or at least, even if he's not, that the U.S. government is also guilty. The movie provides some information about the horrific conditions at Gitmo, and brief mentions of how Hollander and Duncan's work would have made them look like traitors. More of these kinds of elements might have elevated the drama, but as it stands, the movie does just enough to get its point across.

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