27 September 2023

The Mauritanian

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Reviewed by Rama Gaind.

Director: Kevin Macdonald, Amazon Prime.

A splendid line-up of actors, each delivering a superb portrayal, in a legal drama based on the true story of Mohamedou Ould Slahi, who fights for freedom after being detained and imprisoned without charge by the U.S. Government for years.

From Mauritania, in northwest Africa, he was incarcerated and held without charge for more than 14 years at the infamous Guantánamo Bay camp in Cuba.

Despite almost no evidence being unearthed, he was accused of being one of the key recruiters for the attacks. Slahi became another victim because one of the hijackers spent a night on his couch.

From the opening frame, the film grabs your attention and keeps you captivated to the end wondering how these incidents could actually have played out. He was kidnapped and tortured in ways barely imaginable.

However, as Slahi said: “No matter how bad you make the torture scenes, the reality was much worse”. He became very susceptible. “Like a child, but when you embrace your weakness, that’s when you become strong.”

The acting of Jodie Foster, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tahar Rahim and Shailene Woodley has you entranced!

Rahim (A Prophet, Serpent) in the title role is amazing. His resilience and ability to withstand, what must have been excruciating pain, is incredible. What he endured in jail, particularly Guantánamo, required unbelievable mental and physical strength. Slahi’s toughness must be commended.

Also incorporated in the film are stories of the other characters, who could well fit the ‘saviour’ profile. Defence attorney Nancy Hollander is played by Academy Award-winning Foster (The Silence of the Lambs, The Accused, Taxi Driver), who fought heroically to bring Slahi’s case to light, along with her assistant Teri Duncan (Shailene Woodley, The Descendants, The Spectacular Now). The other is Lt. Colonel Stuart Couch, the formidable U.S. military prosecutor, played by Benedict Cumberbatch (The Courier, 1917, Brexit). Couch lost a friend on one of the planes that crashed into the twin towers on 9/11 and was so committed to securing retribution that he pledged he would stick the needle in Slahi’s arm himself.

The frantic pursuit for justice had a successful outcome. The controversial advocacy from Hollander, along with fabricated evidence uncovered by Couch, eventually revealed an appalling and far-reaching conspiracy.

Directed by Kevin Macdonald, the film is adapted from a 2015 memoir titled Guantánamo Diary. Ensure you watch past the end credits to see the real-life Slahi. He also sings a Bob Dylan song!

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