Jodie Foster and Benedict Cumberbatch star in Kevin Macdonald’s latest film, The Mauritanian, a biopic based on the memoirs of Mohamedou Ould Slahi (played by Tahar Rahim fresh off of BBC drama The Serpent). Accused of masterminding 9/11, Slahi was held in Guantanamo Bay for years without ever being charged with a crime or given a trial. This courtroom drama follows the legal investigations at the hands of defence lawyer Nancy Hollander (Foster) and prosecutor Stuart Couch (Cumberbatch) as they tear down the walls of red tape and bureaucracy to uncover the truth about what really happened to Slahi in the notorious prison.
Given the potential of the premise and the tremendous talent behind and in front of the camera (Shailene Woodley and Zackery Levi also appear in supporting roles), it is a disappointment that the project boils down to a largely forgettable and bloated piece that lectures audiences on what western justice should be. The script is so focused on underlining how shady the system is that it forgets to humanise its key players beyond the recounting of tired speeches we’ve heard a dozen times before. While Foster and Cumberbatch’s performances are solid enough to get an impression of what their characters are all about, the flick misses the mark when it comes to portraying its main subject.
We don’t know that much about who Slahi is other than what’s depicted in a selection of flashbacks. Though this is beneficial at first to give his innocence some ambiguity, the flipside is that it makes it difficult to sympathise with him when it counts. And when his torture is covered in an overcooked and uncomfortably long sequence reminiscent of a bad metal video from the early 2000s, the impact just isn’t there.
Though a swift subversion of expectation works as an effective gut-punch seconds before the credits, The Mauritanian is ultimately a noble attempt at a humanitarian film that fails to inject enough humanity to get the results that it wants.
The Mauritanian is released on Amazon Prime on 1st April 2021.
Read more reviews from our Glasgow Film Festival 2020 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Glasgow Film Festival website here.
Watch the Trailer for The Mauritanian here: