Most people were extremely ‘meh’ in their reactions to The Mauritanian, so I completely expected to feel similarly about it. Weirdly, it seems as though I enjoyed this movie much more than the average person. Let me tell you why.
The Mauritanian is based on the true story of Mohamedou Ould Slahi (played here by Tahar Rahim), a man from Mauritania who was held captive by the United States in Guantanamo Bay for fourteen years. Adapted into a screenplay using Mohamedou’s own memoir titled Guantanamo Diary, we are privy to learning exactly how he was unlawfully detained at Gitmo without due process for such a long time. With the help of a humanitarian lawyer (Jodie Foster), Slahi begrudgingly accepts her assistance to get him a fair trial and along the way discovers a government conspiracy to keep him held there without probable cause.
To summarise in one sentence: the real Mohamedou is such a pure, sweet man and America’s got some ‘splainin’ to do.
First off, Tahar Rahim is absolutely phenomenal in his execution of this role. It’s very interesting that the Oscars completely blindsided him (and this entire film), yet he was deservedly nominated for Best Actor at the BAFTAs. I wonder why that might be? Nothing do to with the fact that it exposes some ugly truths, huh?
For the most part, The Mauritanian does exactly that: it reveals so many horrendous events about Slahi’s life in the US-owned prison that it’s so hard to believe that it happened in the 21st century. In that regard, it undoubtedly achieves what it set out to do. and that is to shock and sicken the viewer.
Another interesting tidbit: Jodie Foster won the Golden Globe for her performance in this movie. I’m not going to to downplay her because she’s great in everything she’s ever been in, (this included) but come on, now. She could perform this role in her sleep. Olivia Colman (The Father) and Helena Zengel (News of the World) were also nominated, and in my opinion, they both deserved the win over Foster on this occasion. However, I’m reluctantly quite impressed by Benedict Cumberbatch here. He does an excellent job of portraying his character’s inner conflict and I’m sure many Americans will feel a similar way to how he does when faced with such a horrific, scheming situation.
This is a compelling true story that absolutely deserves a feature film. Sometimes the camerawork is a little shaky (perhaps unintentionally) and it won’t be for those who believe that ignorance in bliss – there are some extremely strong and explicit torture scenes – or those who are not interested in political and legal drama. But to me, the screenplay is very tightly written. I’m really not sure why it’s not getting more love, because it really struck a chord with me emotionally and on a basic human level. If you feel any sort of sympathy and empathy, you’ll probably feel touched by this movie.
Technically speaking, what really impressed me were the changes in aspect ratio to differentiate between past and present. I’m sure other films have done it previously but it’s just genius if you ask me. (I’ve actually seen some criticism about the aspect ratio thing from others who think it’s ‘hokey’, but I thought it was really inventive and unique. Not sorry.)
I agree with the majority: it’s not the most thrilling or exciting film at all times, but it deserves your full attention. What happened to this man (and many others like him) is horrific and I’m really glad the filmmakers decided to shed some light on this man’s story.
The Mauritanian is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video in the UK.
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