Director Kevin Macdonald both enlightens and shocks with this dramatic film. After a suspenseful opening scene where we meet the main character, a man by the name of Mohamedou Ould Slahi, from Mauritanian, South African, we find out that he’s in desperate need of help.
A defense attorney named Nancy Hollander, played by Jodie Foster, is approached about Slahi, who has now been missing for three years. An article from a weekly publication out of Germany called Der Spiegel, located Slahi, discovering he’s being held at Guantánamo Bay. He has been labeled a terrorist by the United States Government and said to be one of the organizers of 9/11. When Nancy finds out he has never had a trial, she takes the case.
‘The Mauritanian,’ the film, is based on a New York Times bestselling book about that Guantánamo Bay prisoner, played spectacularly by French actor Tahar Rahim. The book, called ‘Guantánamo Diary,’ is Slahi’s memoir’s which were written to inform the courts, the government, and the American people exactly what he, and he suspects, other prisoners, had gone through while being imprisoned at Gitmo. They were confined without ever even being charged with a crime.
He was encouraged to write the book by Hollander. She and her associate, Teri Duncan (Woodley), took his case pro bono due to his right to Habeas corpus. Habeas corpus is a law in which a person can report their unlawful detention to a court and ask that court to allow them the right to see the judge in a trial, to determine whether or not their custody is lawful.
Hollander asks Slahi to write what he has gone through, a task not easy to do when his jailers are still holding him, considering that he is no longer safe once she leaves.
Nancy and Teri are attacked for defending ‘a terrorist,’ but she tries to explain to the people that she fights for everyone’s rights.
She’s approached by the prosecuting attorney, Stu Couch (Cumberbatch), who was chosen to be the prosecutor because he knew the pilot in one of the planes used to hit the towers on 9/11.
Stu asks Nancy if it bothers her working for someone like Slahi. She tells him that she is defending the rule of law, asking him in return the ‘what if’ question about being wrong. What would it feel like to be wrong when you’ve abandoned all your values and principles to be right about this one thing?
It’s halfway into the film at this point, and you’ll be riveted, salivating for more. Hollander reminds a reporter that if she defends a rapist, it doesn’t make her a rapist. She defends someone because the Constitution doesn’t have an asterisk in it that says ‘Terms and Conditions apply.’
For most of the film, the military is successful at yanking her around, making it difficult for her to get any real information. When she and Stu both find out the truth, the actors’ emotions and that the audience will experience builds to a fever pitch, especially if you’ve been keeping in mind the entire film that this is based on a true story. Impossible not to.
Macdonald slowly moves in on Stu’s reaction as he reads Slahi’s MFR’s, Memo’s for The Record. He does the same with Nancy’s responses to Slahi’s notes when he finally gives in and writes them down for her to read. This scene is very moving.
A few things ‘The Mauritanian’ will accomplish is educate you and anger you. Seeing what happens during Slahi’s fight for freedom will enlighten yet disgust you. Reading what happens to him after the dust settles will enrage you. The film, told through a series of flashbacks in several different timelines, shows you who Slahi is, an unbreakable spirit who never deserved to land where he did, who paid a high price for not simply giving in when his body was being broken. He finally has his day in court in December of 2009. He gets a letter in the mail delivered to him in Gitmo in March 2010 that he won his case… but it’s not over yet!
Keep watching for what happens after his momentous win. The filmmaker left you some reading to do so you don’t miss anything.
Director: Name here
Writers: Name here
Stars: Name here
Running Time: 2h 9m
Genres: Drama, Thriller