#REVIEW: “THE MAURITANIAN”
Review by David Baldwin for Mr. Will Wong
In the aftermath of 9/11, Mohamedou Ould Slahi (Tahar Rahim) is captured by the US government and imprisoned at the infamous Guantanamo Bay prison. Though the US believes Slahi is involved in those terrorist attacks, he is not charged with any crimes and is held without trial. Years later, Defense Attorney Nancy Hollander (Oscar-winner Jodie Foster) learns of Slahi and his circumstances, and decides to take up his case. Finding evidence of his innocence will not be easy, especially as the prosecution, led by Lt. Colonel Stuart Couch (Benedict Cumberbatch), has begun building their own case against him.
The Mauritanian is based on a remarkable and harrowing true story. If you know anything about the horrors that occurred to wrongfully individuals imprisoned after 9/11, you can probably guess what kind of movie you are in for. This is not a “feel good” picture, and Oscar-winning Director Kevin Macdonald does not even pretend to sugar coat any of the frustrating atrocities that were inflicted on Slahi. Specific moments here (mainly of the torturous type) are intense and often frustrating to sit through. Macdonald never shies away from the truth, and uses his documentarian roots to put together a compelling picture that is every bit an endurance test to sit through.
Where The Mauritanian falters is in its structure. It spends the majority of its time on Slahi and his journey through hell in Guantanamo, but it frequently pulls focus away from him to show Hollander and Couch building their cases. While some of these moments are just as interesting as they are aggravating, they also feel extraneous and rather boring. In 2021, there is no reason why a film like this needs to have characters spell out that there is a conspiracy at play – knowing this is a true story should more than suggest how plainly obvious this is to anyone with a pulse. If the Film had a more linear emphasis and if the lawyer and courtroom scenes were trimmed down, it would have been much tighter and a whole lot more effective.
On the acting front, Rahim is absolutely riveting as Slahi. You feel every ounce of anguish and heartache this character goes through. When he gets punched in the gut – or worse – you feel his pain. Rahim controls the screen and demands your attention with his very lived-in and deeply emotional performance. This is very strong work right from the start, and it only grows stronger as the Film progresses. Foster is just as solid and feisty as you expect her to be as Hollander. She more than holds her own against Rahim’s powerhouse performance, and more than proves what a terrific player she has always been. Cumberbatch is enjoyable and plays very well into the confliction and contradiction Couch feels throughout the Film. But the Southern twang accent he uses is horribly distracting and unintentionally hilarious more often than it should be. It just does not work for him at all.
The Mauritanian is a good film that could have been something even greater. It tells a compelling story and has a riveting lead performance from Rahim at its centre. But the structure of the Film needed some fine-tuning, and Cumberbatch’s accent is so unintentionally-funny that it threatens to derail much of the Film’s intensity. If both of those elements were adjusted, this could have been a top shelf contender for Best Picture.
Elevation Pictures release THE MAURITANIAN in select theatres Friday, February 26, 2021 and on Digital and On-Demand Services on Tuesday, March 2, 2021.
*Please ensure you exercise caution in observing COVID-19 protocols if seeing this in-theatre.*