The Mauritanian

Barb And Star Go to Vista Del Mar

Directed by: Kevin MacDonald

Written by: Michael Bronner, Rory Haines and Sohrab Noshrivani

Starring: Tahar Rahim, Jodie Foster, Shailene Woodley and Benedict Cumberbatch 

The Mauritanian is a post-9/11 revisionist film by Kevin MacDonald. Twenty years after the horrific event that destroyed one of Manhattan’s capitalist landmarks, MacDonald takes aim at the US’s Guantanamo Bay detention centre and all the inhumanity that happened, and is still happening inside in it. MacDonald looks at it using Mohamedou Ould Salahi (Rahim) as a focal point. It is an outrageous miscarriage of justice fuelled by Islamophobia and post 9/11 hysteria. 

Mohamedou Ould Salahi is a real person, and this story is based on real events. He was imprisoned, without charge, for fourteen years in this detention camp, subjected to abject torture regimes for his supposed links to the beacon of terror for the western world - Osama Bin Laden. These methods of torture, well documented in other films such as Katryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty (2012) and Scott Z. Burns The Report (2019) included water-boarding and sexual degradation, up to and including rape. Those who wish to be educated on the extent to which the US military is willing to go to procure ‘justice’ should look no further than Erol Morris’ 2003 documentary Standard Operating Procedure (2003). 

MacDonald however, chooses to make his film accessible by way of legal drama. Instead of staying with Mohamedou in Guantanamo, where the film is at its most interesting, he deviates to Nancy Hollander (Foster) and Lt. Colonel Stuart Couch (Cumberbatch) who act as his defense and prosecutor respectively. Couch has personal skin in the game, his buddy was a pilot of one of the planes that crashed into one of the Twin Towers. The powers that be use this as a tool, more pointedly as a method of radicalisation. Mohamedou may not have hijacked the plane itself, but most certainly he played a part in your friends tragic death, they surmise. Foster does her best with what can only be described as a stock character, despite Hollander being a living, breathing person herself.

Her first visit to Git-Mo, one cannot help correlating with Clarice Starling’s impending encounter with Hannibal Lecter, MacDonald makes a big deal with the opening and closing of gates, to highlight the maximum security, and the supposed dangerous nature of the animal inside. MacDonald, along with his cinematographer Alwin H. Kuchler, make an interesting contrast between the beauty of the Bay, and the isolated horrors on the other side of the chain-linked fences. The man inside the box is no Dr. Lecter, he is sweet and charming despite the trauma he has been through. He is portrayed by Tahar Rahmin as sharp and intelligent. His gentle and forgiving nature is almost to the point of incredulity until you get the final real-life footage of Mohamedou singing along to Bob Dylan’s ‘The Man in Me- and you realise this guy knows where it’s at.

MacDonald and his screenwriters take cheap digs at American culture with references to MacDonald’s, apple pie and the E! News channels in repetition and with great irony. These punctuations in the narrative think they are more clever than they are and ultimately the main problem with the film lies in the script. This film along with the Kristen Stewart led Camp X-Ray (2014) is being accused of being a fence sitting exercise. I have sympathy for the filmmakers in this respect, thematically it’s a plate spinning exercise. Maybe one day we will get a great fictional film about Guantanamo Bay, The Mauritanian ultimately falls a good bit short of that mark.