A film which makes you think is the best kind of film. The Mauritanian is chock full of things which will make you think about it for a long time afterwards. Also brings with it a variety of emotions. Most of them would fall on the negative side of the ledger. Anger, shock, horror, and frustration. Wondering how this can happen. How can a country go into another country and nab one of their citizens then hold them in a secret jail for years subjecting them to what is basically torture without ever charging them with anything. Why does the rest of the world stand around, doing nothing allowing the Americans to do this? Plenty of questions crop up. Precious few answers.That is not a criticism of the film. There just are no answers.
After 9/11 the American government and much of the population want someone to pay. They want to find the people behind the hijacking of the planes and the deaths of almost 3,000 people. At any cost. That cost is the rights of others. One person in particular is Mohamedou Ould Slahi (Tahar Rahim – Mary Magdalene). The Mauritanian is suspected by the U.S. of being one of the al Qaeda organizers of September 11 terrorist attacks. He is taken in for questioning by the FBI in his country then moved to Jordan where he undergoes more questioning for months. Finally, he is then moved by the military to a detention camp at Guantanamo Bay.
There he is held for years without being charged. Finally, lawyer Nancy Hollander (Jodie Foster – Taxi Driver, Silence of the Lambs) finds out about him and approaches him, along with her associate Teri Duncan (Shailene Woodley – Divergent, The Fault in Our Stars), seeing if he wants them as his lawyers. Seeing that Nancy is serious about his defense, Slahi agrees. Nancy is not really interested in his guilt or innocence, just wants to make sure his rights are not being trampled.
Such begins their fight against the U.S. government, who will be represented by military lawyer Lt. Colonel Stuart Couch ( Benedict Cumberbatch – The Imitation Game, Doctor Strange). The fight will test everyone involved, cause several to change their minds about what they thought previously and goes on for years.
They say that truth is often stranger than fiction. That what people actually live through is more incredible than what our imaginations can come up with. The story here is based on the novel written by Slahi himself while he was still in Guantanamo. A novel which they would not let him read while he was there. Stuff is exposed there and here in the film which I am sure many Americans and others would like to bury their heads in the sand over pretending it doesn’t happen. We also know that this kind of disregard for human rights and torture went on in places like Iraq at the Abu Graib facility. Great (but disturbing) story, solid direction and strong performances from the main cast members.
This is a film which does not shy away from exposing Guantanamo as the inhumane place it is. Several films have covered this topic before but few have done it so well. Besides a very talented cast, what Kevin Macdonald’s (The Last King of Scotland, State of Play) film does well is keep the human side up front and center. There is plenty of room allowed for character development to exist alongside the facts of the story. This brings heart to the matter. You see the human cost and are not allowed to turn away.
There are disturbing scenes depicting the type of torture, of a physical, psychological and even sexual nature, which was inflicted on Slahi over the course of years. But not in a gratuitous way. It was there to ram home the fact of what this man went through for years. With his rights being totally disregarded. I, for one, sat there not believing that this could actually happen. And also thinking that the U.S. cannot be the only country doing this. Finally that this cannot be the best way to combat terrorism. To become deniers of human rights and torturers. Then attempt to cover it up. Gotta be a better way to catch them. Ends does not justify the means.
The Mauritanian is now available to own on Digital, and will be available to own on Blu-Ray and DVD on May 11th.