Thursday, February 25, 2021

The Mauritanian

Based on the true experiences of Mohamedou Ould Salahi (Tahar Rahim) being held by the United States Government for years for suspected ties to 9/11, director Kevin Macdonald's film chronicles his stay in Guantanamo Bay and the work of his lawyers (Jodie Foster and Shailene Woodley) to earn his release, not because they believe he is innocent but they believe what happened to Salahi was unconstitutional.

The cast is stellar. We also get Benedict Cumberbatch as the prosecutor with personal ties to the case and Zachary Levi as a sort of shady government agent who doesn't want the methods for extracting information revealed. Much of the film examine how hard it is to go up against the United States Government in court, especially when Federal Agencies have the power to redact and deny information. The film chooses to make Salahi's innocence, and in some ways the character himself, of secondary importance over a legal argument that almost never sees the inside of a courtroom. It also relies on big shocking emotional reveals not unlike screenwriters call-out both the Government and the people of the United States for their frenzied reaction to 9/11.

The Mauritanian works, more or less, as intended, but the choices of Macdonald and screenwriters Rory Haines and Sohrab Noshirvani limit how effectively the story can be told. Given the subject matter and cast assembled you can't help but feel somewhat let down by how much time is spent on legal maneuvering and how little is spent on the characters and the search for the truth. That may be the point of the film, but it's not exactly compelling. While the treatment of Salahi in Guantanamo Bay proves to be key to the story, it's held in reserve for in order to generate an artificial climax to the story when and where the film wants the facts revealed. Perhaps the most interesting thing about the film is Salahi looking back at his captors not with hate but forgiveness, telling us there is far more about this man than what we've been allowed to see on-screen.

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