The Mauritanian with Tahar Rahim and Jodie Foster (Film Review)

Last Updated on August 5, 2021

PLOT: After the events of 9/11/2001, Mohamedou Ould Slahi was detained and imprisoned by the US government. When an attorney takes on his case, the truth behind his captivity and why he was taken in is revealed in this Kevin Macdonald directed feature.

REVIEW: Kevin Macdonald has never shied away from taking on serious subject matters. From The Last King of Scotland to his feature film version of State of Play, the filmmaker manages to attract strong actors to take on intense features. And now, he offers a fascinating story about a man sentenced to  Guantanamo Bay soon after the horrific terrorist attack on September 11, 2001. The Mauritanian offers us the impressive Tahar Rahim who portrays Mohamedou Ould Slahi, a man sentenced to imprisonment at the infamous detention center and taken away from his family, all due to suspicion regarding his possible involvement in the devastating attack on American soil. This is based on a true story, a shockingly fascinating one at that.

Soon after 9/11, Mohamedou Ould Slahi is detained and imprisoned without formal charges due to a phone call he received from a man connected to Bin Laden. When defense attorney Nancy Hollander (Jodie Foster) takes an interest in his case, he begins to open up about his incarceration to Nancy and her assistant Teri Duncan (Shailene Woodley). With Mohamedou talking to counsel, prosecuting attorney Stuart Couch (Benedict Cumberbatch) steps in to make sure that the man is not released and remains captive. As more and more information is released, however, both Nancy and Stuart realize there is much more to the story of Mohamedou's incarceration. The film examines Stahi's captivity and his seemingly impossible fight for freedom.

The Mauritanian, Jodie Foster, Tahar Rahim, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kevin Macdonald, Shailene Woodley, true story, 9/11,

One thing that is surprising about Macdonald's latest is that while the depiction of torture is frightening, it's not as much in abundance as you may suspect. By placing the film's focus on Slahi, and his relationship with Nancy, as well as a mysterious fellow prisoner, this story isn't nearly as provocative and disturbing as it might have in another filmmaker's hands. This feature takes a more straightforward approach with a focus on the legal battle as opposed to putting all attention on the more horrific aspects of his incarceration. While it's a compelling tale, it occasionally takes a slightly more routine direction. The script places focus on moments of his initial detainment, his time at Guantanamo, and finally the court case that surrounded him.

The most impressive aspect of the film is the leading performance of Tahar Rahim. His take on Mohamedou Ould Slahi is especially emotional as he completely inhabits the role wholly. It is through his eyes that we question what happened in the past, and how closely he was involved, if at all. This is a stunning showcase for the actor that is equally vulnerable and complex, yet he is fueled by anger and fear. When the safety of his mother is threatened, you see great pain and heartbreak and it only makes his story all the more shocking. Rahim is astonishing here. He gives a fearless and captivating show, one that is likely to bring his name to the forefront this coming awards season.

The Mauritanian, Tahar Rahim, Jodie Foster, Benedict Cumberbatch, Shailene Woodley, true story, 9/11,

As far as the supporting cast, it's no surprise that Jodie Foster and Benedict Cumberbatch bring the film to another level. It's especially nice to see Ms. Foster as real-life attorney Nancy Hollander. The actress is perfectly cast and her on-screen relationship with not only Rahim but with both Cumberbatch and Woodley as well is truly impressive. Nancy is a force to be reckoned with, even when she is criticized or attacked for defending a man many believed to be one of the terrorists behind 9/11. Even knowing what we do now, it's difficult to imagine taking on a case that is as challenging and controversial as his. Both Foster and Rahim create a dynamic on-screen relationship that easily keeps the viewer engaged.

The Mauritanian is a well-made feature from a solid director, one that examines a case that still feels relevant today. While he takes a more standard approach – although the changing of the aspect ratio for past events was a great choice – the story doesn't feel nearly as horrific as it could have. Yet you cannot deny the exceptional work from both Tahar Rahim and Jodie Foster. Even at its worst, Kevin Macdonald has made an impactful film that brings to light this incredible story. Yet it's the actors who bring their all to this fascinating tale, so much so that it is likely to inspire some to read about what happened to this man during his captivity. There is much to appreciate here, but it's the two leads and the intriguing story that make it worth seeking out.

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