By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)
Based on Mohamedou Ould Salahi’s memoir Guantanamo Diary, this film adaptation by director Kevin Macdonald does manage to deliver an emotional wallop, but gets undermined by a mostly dull, legal procedural approach to the material. The movie follows the legal defense and their investigation into the unlawful detention and torture of Salahi who gets suspected of playing a role in the attacks on 9/11. As a commentary on the lack of due process involved in the 9/11 investigations and the horrible methods involved in the interrogations, The Mauritanian works well enough. However, the rest of the movie proves to be a mostly trite exercise in story-telling and character development.
Jodie Foster stars as the tough and no-nonsense attorney Nancy Hollander. An advocate for international law and human rights, Hollander decides to represent Guantanamo prisoner Mohamedou Ould Salahi (Tahar Rahim) when she realizes he has been wrongfully imprisoned and held without the proper due process he deserves. Though Salahi may have had some loose ties with a terrorist involved in the 9/11 attacks on the US, he has been treated as a prime suspect undergoing intense interrogation and enduring the extreme tortures endorsed by the government and the millitary. While Salahi continues to wait desperately in his prison, the government and the military do everything they can to cover up any evidence of wrong doing which makes his case a most difficult and challenging battle.
With an adapted screenplay by M.B. Traven, Rory Haines, and Sohrab Noshirvani, director Kevin Macdonald presents a compelling, but flawed and occasionally weak movie that too often follows the legal process by the numbers. While this may come across as more realistic, it is a rather lacking approach when it comes to cinematic storytelling. That said, the film mostly works due to the strength of its intended messages and the impact of its depiction of the inexplicably inhumane treatment of Guantanamo prisoners.
In addition, actor Tahar Rahim brings a real and genuine humanity to the character of Mohamedou Salahi. It is a beautiful and inspiring performance that transcend all weaknesses of the script and direction. Jodie Foster gives a solid performance as attorney Nancy Hollander. Though the development of the character is a bit lacking in the writing. Foster’s talent also adds to the character’s translation on the screen. Shailene Woodey also performs well as the emotionally torn and tormented Teri Duncan, a younger and less seasoned attorney working on the case with Hollander. Benedict Cumberbatch stars as prosecuting attorney Lt. Colonel Stuart Couch, but plays it so broadly that the character’s development suffers further.
Though this movie has its problems, I still feel it is important that most Americans watch it to get a better perspective on the fallout of 9/11 and its impact on the rights of people. The film opens in theaters on February 12.