Ewan Gleadow

Movie Review: The Mauritanian

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Modern history and the politics around it are always solid cannon fodder for filmmakers. It allows them to convey a message or meaning that they feel best represents the period but also gives them headway in attracting attention for their adaptation of reality. Official Secrets depicted the fallout of 9/11, the leaked memos that led to the war in Iraq and the whistle-blower behind it. Corruption is at the heart of many of these films. It is a product of the time they are from. Acknowledging this deceit and adapting it to the screen to try and understand it is an honest intention, and something The Mauritanian director Kevin Macdonald wishes to do.  

While it is not a film that will entertain the notion of artistic uniqueness, Macdonald sacrifices his authorial voice in the hopes of showcasing a strong story. His camera pans around stuffy board rooms and conferences, and it is the set and costume design that sparks most of the impressive tones and styles. The Mauritanian is a polished film, one that has plenty to offer visually, but not all that much when it is concerned with artistic expression or even writing for that matter. It is by the numbers, but sometimes that can be engaging enough. Here, it gets the job done. Jodie Foster and Benedict Cumberbatch lay much of the groundwork. They are solid draws at the best of times and anchored by an American accent, Cumberbatch does as best he can. He is convincing and indeed enjoyable, steering the ship and distilling the hard facts. 

He and Foster provide either side of the debate. The cover-up of fact against the justice of such truth being public knowledge. Incredibly, The Mauritanian makes its facts feel encroaching and generally interesting. Our visit to Guantanamo Bay with Nancy Hollander (Foster) and Teri Duncan (Shailene Woodley) feels eerie and uncomfortable. It is here that Tahar Ramin gets to shine. He does not just give a fascinatingly great performance but is the fixation of both Nancy and Lt. Stuart Couch (Cumberbatch). One is attempting to clear his name, the other quite the opposite. Where the cohesion is, though, is how they are both trying to achieve their goal. Lots of quick cut, extreme-close ups of hard graft and information, more so for Cumberbatch but Foster and Woodley get their fair share too.  

Another film that expresses a truly important message of real-life woes and worrying consequence, The Mauritanian is well-placed but information-heavy. I suppose it has to be, to really hammer home the message it displays. What is the message, though? The real story of Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s imprisonment is a tragic example of how the war on terror manipulated government and governance into cracking down hard on how they profile individuals. It is disgusting, and those engaging with The Mauritanian, most likely, already know that. Lawyer work in film has a weird soft spot in my heart. I cannot explain it, but I like the emotional sway it can have. The Mauritanian is more a film about the horrors of Guantanamo Bay, Slahi is, unfortunately, one of many case studies for its closure, that much I am sure of.