As much as The Mauritanian can boast Jodie Foster (in her Golden Globe-winning role), Benedict Cumberbatch and Shailene Woodley as its headliners, it’s the central performance from the lesser-known Tahar Rahim that ultimately impresses and grounds the film around him.
A factual-based dramatic thriller detailing some of the supposed inner workings of the 9/11 terrorism attacks, Rahim stars as Mohamedou Ould Salahi, who was arrested on suspicion of being one of the masterminds of the attacks. Suspicious he may have been, he was never formally charged and was held without trial for 14 years in Guantanamo Bay, subjected to humiliating and atrocious torture throughout.
Regardless of his guilt or not, defence attorney Nancy Hollander (Foster) assigns herself his case, determined to fight against the due process that detained him without reason. Opposing this is Lt. Colonel Stuart Couch (Cumberbatch, trying his best with his US drawl), a prosecutor who slowly starts to unravel Salahi’s case and can’t help but notice its legal flaws.
No stranger to a dramatic narrative with factual connotations, director Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland, Whitney) adopts a slow burn mentality for The Mauritanian to adhere to, constantly keeping Salahi’s innocence in question as Hollander and her right-hand, Woodley’s Teri Duncan, investigate the mostly redacted documents pertaining to the case. And though the film has the correct material to rightfully anger audiences, Macdonald is sure to never let the film descend into a highly-strung state that undoes the cruelty at hand.
Whilst the film has the smarts to avoid overdoing itself, it also never quite delves as deep as you feel it could, given the political thematics on hand and its commentary on the temperament of Guantanamo Bay and the treatment of its prisoners. Whatever intricacies the M.B. Traven–Rory Haines–Sohrab Noshirvani-penned script may not precisely investigate though are ultimately forgiven, thanks in large part to the emotionally driven turn from Rahim. A more subtle, under-the-radar performance that foregoes “award season” flash – though, rightfully, he was awarded a nomination for Best Actor in a Drama at the Golden Globes – Rahim is the spiritual centre of The Mauritanian, lacing the film with a humanity that further drives home the importance of its story.
THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
The Mauritanian will be available to stream on Amazon Prime Video in Australian and New Zealand from March 24th, 2021.