In 2001, a Mauritanian man was arrested by the US government in aftermath of the September 11 attacks. The govt accused him of recruiting members for al Qaeda. He was then detained at Guantanamo Bay from 2002 until 2016 without any official charge or trial. The man, Mohamedou Ould Salahi, wrote his misfortune in a 2015 memoir ‘Guantanamo Diary’ which becomes the inspiration for Kevin Macdonald‘s The Mauritanian.
Related Post: Review: Dark Waters (2019)
Tahar Rahim sympathetically portrays Salahi with panache and extra sensitivity. However, The Mauritanian is ironically a more collective, multi-faceted story, rather than a focused story about Salahi’s ordeal. The plot adds extra perspectives to the 14-year story with the inclusions of an American defense attorney, Nancy Hollander (Jodie Foster) along with her associate, Teri Duncan (Shaylene Woodley) as well as the military prosecutor, Lt. Colonel Stuart Couch (Benedict Cumberbatch in a thick American accent) into the equation. The result is a rather unbalanced, Americanized story to the event whose heart and soul aren’t at all white.
At its heart, it’s a moving political statement to unravel the conspiracies that have long put the case under the shadow. It’s a poignant shoutout to reveal the system’s crooked face through the story of a man wronged for nothing less than a PR maneuver. The Mauritanian covers the brutality of Guantanamo quite fairly by focusing on Salahi’s state of mind — his isolation, his declining sanity, and his hurtful memories — instead of filling the film with graphic depictions of torture and dehumanization. Without having to explicitly show the brutality, Rahim‘s sensitive performance reflects just how torture can take a toll on an ordinary man. He might not have been purely innocent in any way, but whatever’s done to him is a sheer vision of injustice.
Related Post: Review: Eye in the Sky (2016)
And yet, The Mauritanian never seems to bother with sticking to Salahi’s perspective. Therefore, the story ventures to legal drama territory as well, giving highlights to the aspired Foster portraying a rather repetitive procedure in making sure that all the decays in Guantanamo are exposed and Salahi can finally be free again. Cumberbatch on the opposite end of the law is given an internal conflict of his own as his character begins to smell conspiracies here and there. Yet, he’s also obliged to find justice for his comrades who were victims of the September 11 attacks. Without Hollander’s tireless effort and Couch’s conscience, Salahi’s story will not progress anywhere; but, with both American folks’ story highlighted and juxtaposed, it starts to look ugly. The white savior complex is in the air without having too explicitly shown.
Rahim and the rest of the cast subtly deliver an enticing performance that lives up to the drama that the film carries. However, The Mauritanian feels like a collection of testimonials that isn’t moving enough given the source material’s engaging substance. While the urgency to spread awareness about the subject matter keeps soaring, this film doesn’t necessarily fit the agenda, except for a little bite that doesn’t sting at all.