This is the true story of Mohamedou Salahi, a man from Mauritania who was kidnapped from his home and detained and (it goes without saying) tortured in Guantanamo Bay by the U.S. government in the wake of 9/11 for years without being charged with a single crime.
Salahi (Tahar Rahim) has been languishing in a cell in Cuba for years by the time we meet him; he’s just added a sympathetic lawyer to his cause. Nancy Hollander (Jodie Foster) takes a lot of flak for defending a terrorist but everyone’s supposed to have the same rights, bad guy or good guy, innocent or guilty. Right? Yeah, right. The US government believes it can switch its own laws, conditions, and human rights on and off at will, and hide their worst transgressions offshore (ahem, Cuba). Nancy adds Teri Duncan (Shailene Woodley) to her team, and off they trot to good old Guantanamo where they learn they’re in for an extremely uphill battle. Meanwhile, the other side is covered by Stuart Couch (Benedict Cumberbatch) who isn’t having the easiest time either. Meanwhile, fair to say Mohamedou is having the absolute worst time of all because as you may have heard, Guantanamo is more or less synonymous with horrible abuse.
Tahar Rahim’s performance is magnetic, finding the sweet spot between hero and villain that is every shade of human, and his nomination is well deserved. In fact, Foster, Cumberbatch, and to a lesser extent Woodley, are in top form as well (but look out for Benedict’s Southern accent and report back on your opinion immediately!). The story is fascinating even if you’ve read extensively about it before. Kevin Macdonald’s direction, however, is simplistic and straight-forward. The Mauritanian isn’t so much a good movie as a compelling story. It’s solidly well-made in a no-frills way but won’t impress anyone beyond basic competence. Should you watch it? I think it’s interesting and informative and covers a pretty important topic that most Americans seem to have largely ignored. The answer is yes: check out The Mauritanian. It is necessary and infuriating.