tv & movies

‘The Mauritanian’ movie review: Jodie Foster elevates legal drama to a whole new level

Kevin Macdonald’s film is adapted from Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s 2015 memoir, that details the life of a prisoner held without charges in Guantanamo Bay for 14 years

After wanting Jodie Foster to be my mum post Panic Room and Flightplan, The Mauritanian makes me want her to be my lawyer too. Based on Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s memoir, Guantánamo Diary, the middling film is elevated to a whole new level by the performances of Foster and Tahar Rahim, who plays Slahi.

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The film follows Slahi’s fight for justice after he is picked up from his native Mauritania at a family wedding in 2002 and held without charges in Guantanamo Bay detention camp till 2016. Nancy Hollander (Foster), a criminal defence lawyer from the Albuquerque, New Mexico, decides to take Slahi’s case pro bono. With an assistant Teri (Shailene Woodley), Hollander meticulously chips away at all the bureaucratic hurdles put in her way by the military.

Her no-nonsense attitude comes through in her exasperated, “He is not Schrodinger’s cat! He is either there or not there.” She makes it clear, “I am not just defending him, I am defending the rule of the law.” The Constitution, she comments does not come with an asterisk at the end that says, “Terms and conditions apply.”

The Mauritanian

  • Director: Kevin Macdonald
  • Cast: Tahar Rahim, Jodie Foster, Shailene Woodley, Benedict Cumberbatch, Zachary Levi
  • Storyline: The legal battle of a man imprisoned in Guantanamo for 14 years without charges
  • Duration: 129 minutes

When Slahi says, “The word in Arabic for freedom and forgiveness is the same,” it goes some way to explain his lack of bitterness for his incarceration and torture. Foster with her silver hair and blood red lipstick makes for a formidable champion, while Rahim with his gentle eyes that twinkle with wit or shut down as he relives the horrors of his imprisonment are beyond brilliant—the various award nominations are well deserved. Foster got a BAFTA. The predictability of the writing unfortunately does not back these wonderful performances.

Putting Rahim’s Slahi beside Rahim’s Charles Sobhraj in The Serpent, it is almost uncanny how the actor manages to tamp down his personality to present a cipher to the world in the latter. As Slahi, he would have no problem in collecting people willing to follow him to the ends of the earth. Benedict Cumberbatch plays Lt. Colonel Stuart Couch, the military prosecutor, with a distracting accent. Some of the symbolism is heavy handed like the sign for 10-dollar fine for hurting iguanas outside a prison where unspeakable harm is done to human bodies and minds.

Not having subtitles for the foreign languages was annoying. It is one thing for Francis Ford Coppola to eschew subtitles in the restaurant assassination scene in The Godfather and another entirely when there are no subtitles for Slahi’s interactions with a prisoner in the exercise yard, which is in French or at the wedding at home in Arabic. The subtitle saying “speaking in Arabic/French/German” is even more frustrating…

The Mauritanian is currently streaming on Amazon Prime and BookMyShow Stream

 

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