Guantanamo Bay Prisoner Biopic ‘The Mauritanian’ is an Engaging Film with Stellar Performances

Sommerleigh Pollonais, Senior Writer

Plot: Mohamedou Ould Salahi fights for freedom after being detained and imprisoned without charge by the United States Government for years.

Review: Most people know about Guantanamo Bay. It’s a place where criminals, specifically ones deemed terrorists, are detained for years by the US Government and, in most if not all cases, tortured for information. It’s a place that lawyers and courts have been trying to get closed down for years due to these atrocities. And it’s the setting of the true story (or at least the truth based on the autobiography) of the one prisoner who was eventually released from the Bay, Mohamedou Ould Salahi from the African country of Mauritania. He was held there for 14 years (2002-2016) without ever being charged for a crime.

Editor Jules here. Jodie Foster is in this movie so I was initially tempted to make Hannibal Lecter caption jokes. But yeah, this topic is too serious for that. I didn’t even see the movie, but just reading about the true story is deeply upsetting

It’s hard to call a movie with a topic like this one “enjoyable”, but I did find The Mauritanian to be one of the best and most engaging films I’ve seen so far this year. Directed by Kevin McDonald, who also took charge behind the lens on another biopic, The Last King of Scotland, this film keeps you engaged by jumping back and forth between 2005 and 2002 as it tells the story of why Salahi was targeted and renditioned (the legal procedure or process of sending a suspected criminal to another country to be interrogated or detained, thank you to Guantanamo Bay—his cousin called him from a phone that happened to belong to Bin Laden.

Actor Tahar Rahim, most recently seen in the television series The Serpent, does a fantastic job of portraying Salahi, a man who by all accounts managed to hold on to his optimism and kindheartedness during his nightmare incarceration. Academy Award-winner Jodie Foster plays his lawyer Nancy Hollander and, while her acting roles have been few and far between in recent years (she mainly directs films now), she proves without a doubt that she’s still as gifted and talented as ever. For this character she’s a woman of few words but manages to deliver everything just by her facial expressions alone. Shailene Woodley (Big Little Lies/The Divergent Series) and Benedict Cumberbatch (Doctor Strange/Sherlock) round out this stellar cast, and all of them deliver performances that keep you totally invested in this horrendous tale.

The pacing of this film is also pitch perfect. I never felt bored while watching, and that’s quite a feat considering this is not an action-driven movie or a thriller. As a matter of fact, this feels less like a movie and more like you’re watching a true crime documentary. As with many true life stories, the movie ends with real footage of the people involved, which actually helps add weight to what we saw come before. Now I’m not saying everything that came before was one hundred per cent true, but this is one of the few stories of its kind where I felt the director and writers did not set out to embellish the narrative but to simply tell this man’s story, and I applaud them for that.

If the movie has any failings it may be in the lack of character development of any of the other players involved. We never really learn what drives Jodie Foster’s Nancy beyond the “one page” description of her background. Cumberbatch as Lt Couch the prosecutor gets a bit more background, but still it’s not much, and, with the exception of The Mauritanian himself, everyone else is relegated to much smaller roles.

That said, I still think this is a movie worth watching. There are still hundreds of prisoners kept at Guantanamo Bay at present who, unlike Salahi, have either not had their cases heard or have had their appeals denied. And it’s movies such as this one that reminds us when it comes to war, it’s the innocents that suffer the worst.

Sommer’s Score: 7 out of 10

For Guest Writer Sharazz Ali’s review of biopic Escape From Pretoria you can click here. Or for Editor Jules’s review of The Trial of the Chicago 7 you can click here.

2755F829-2EEC-4A68-B6F7-F963F48C9D92 Sommerleigh of the House Pollonais. First of Her Name. Sushi Lover, Queen of Horror Movies, Comic Books and Binge Watching Netflix. Mother of two beautiful black cats named Vader and Kylo. I think eating Popcorn at the movies should be mandatory, PS4 makes the best games ever and I’ll be talking about movies until the zombie apocalypse comes.

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