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Film Review: The Mauritanian (2021)

IMDb Link: The Mauritanian (2021)
Director: Kevin Macdonald
Writers: Michael Bronner, Rory Haines, Sohrab Noshirvani
Cast: Tahar Rahim, Shailene Woodley, Jodie Foster, Benedict Cumberbatch

Synopsis: A detainee at the U.S military’s Guantanamo Bay detention center is held without charges for over a decade and seeks help from a defense attorney for his release.

At the start of the film, text appears on the screen telling the audience that what they are about to watch is based on a true story. There are many stories like this of people who are falsely accused of crimes they did not commit, but this one is perhaps more terrifying than a majority of those stories. This film does a good job depicting the torture that inmates at Guantanamo Bay receive and how they are treated, as well as the impact that place makes on even the lawyers who visit it to speak to the inmates.

I was not familiar with Tahar Rahim before this film, but he is someone I will for sure be keeping my eyes on from now on. In this film filled with huge Hollywood stars, he gives the best performance of them all as Mohamedou Ould Slahi, the detainee at Guantanamo Bay. It can be easy just to point out his performance in the sequences where he is tortured to put through immense pressure, but it is the smaller moments where he also shines in a subtle manner. From moments of hearing about his family back at home, to even just learning to speak English, these small moments help flesh out his role and his performance.

The rest of the cast are, for the most part, solid throughout. Shailene Woodley and Jodie Foster are a great duo who bounce off each other well when they are on screen together, playing the defense attorney and assistant in Slahi’s case. Whilst it takes Benedict Cumberbatch a while to fit into his role and hide away in the accent, by the end I was sold on his character and the performance as a whole. There is also a nice, yet smaller, performance by Zachary Levi within this film.

The editing of this story could have easily fallen flat as it takes the approach of going into the past with Slahi’s previous arrests and his treatment at Guantanamo Bay, then jumping into the present with the defense and prosecution making their cases and discoveries. However, this way of storytelling worked for this film for a number of reasons. With the change of ratio when in the past, it makes it distinctive where the film is currently set and adds a bit of authenticity to the look of the film. Not only that, but the audience gets to see what happened at Guantanamo Bay at the same time that the prosecution and the defense learn about it. This helps create a real narrative between both the past and the present, making these scenes feel necessary.

It does take a while for the story to get going after the sharp opening sequence, yet I found that the film used the time efficiently to establish relationships and motives. This film did not need to establish a reason why the prosecution had their reason to be against Slahi, but that reason and personal connection to the situation he was linked with was established anyway. There are some wonderful moments of dialogue that make real impact throughout, and there is very little I would actually choose to cut out within the film or extra information that I felt I required to further improve on the film.

There is always a story to tell with wrongly-accused inmates, and even then I was fully captivated by this one more than many others in the past few years. With as strong a lead as Tahar Rahim is and the clever editing and pacing, this is a film that I hope gets more discussion as reviews drop and more people get a chance to check it out. I know I will be championing it.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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