Truth and Movies

The Mauritanian

Review by David Jenkins @daveyjenkins

Directed by

Kevin Macdonald

Starring

Denis Ménochet Jodie Foster Tahar Rahim

Anticipation.

Decent cast, though Macdonald is on steadier ground with docs than he is with fiction.

Enjoyment.

Passes the time, but feels a little too much like a particularly insistent Guardian opinion piece.

In Retrospect.

Uhh, 2004 called, it wants its outraged anti-Bush thriller back.

Kevin Macdonald’s based-on-a-true-story Guantanamo Bay drama too often loses its dramatic footing.

The problem with making films based on real-life dramas is that, nine times out of 10, we already know how they end. That hasn’t prevented Kevin Macdonald from making a film about an inmate of Guantanamo Bay – incarcerated on suspicion of having had a tenuous but incriminating link to the folks who masterminded the 9/11 attacks – who any village idiot could discern is innocent from the first second he crops up on screen.

As soft-featured Mauritanian ex-soldier and soon-to-be-family man Mohamedou Ould Salahi, Tahar Rahim unleashes a furtive charm offensive as he is brutally whisked away by US forces due to his brother’s connections to Osama Bin Laden, as well as his own possession of some dodgy text messages.

Enter Jodie Foster’s gratingly righteous defence attorney who, despite a list of charges that are strewn with redacted lines, is convinced that it’s her duty to give Salahi his day in court, even if that means locking horns with shadowy fixtures working in various US federal agencies.

While individual scenes are fluent and dramatic enough, there’s the overarching feeling that this film got completely lost on its way to the mid-’00s as it rages on about how dehumanising the Bush regime’s advanced interrogation techniques were, as if that wasn’t already common knowledge.

Still, there’s ample chemistry between Foster and Rahim, as she has to initially convince him that she is genuinely there to help him (as opposed to just another conniving military guard attempting to extract information that’s not there).

It becomes clear early on that the film, adapted from Salahi’s own memoir, ‘Guantanamo Diary’, wants to showcase the barbarism of such black site stockades rather than to make the audience question the innocence – however faintly – of this wronged man.

Published 1 Apr 2021

Tags: Kevin Macdonald Tahar Rahim The Mauritanian

Anticipation.

Decent cast, though Macdonald is on steadier ground with docs than he is with fiction.

Enjoyment.

Passes the time, but feels a little too much like a particularly insistent Guardian opinion piece.

In Retrospect.

Uhh, 2004 called, it wants its outraged anti-Bush thriller back.

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