This film was previously reviewed in February 2021 as part of our Glasgow Film Festival coverage.

Another film to be added to the 9/11 true story trope, The Mauritanian follows the legal proceedings to grant Mohamedou Ould Salahi (Tahar Rahim) a trial after the man spent years incarcerated in Guantanamo without the chance of standing in front of a court. Aided by pro-bono lawyer Nancy Hollander (Jodie Foster), Salahi overcomes trauma to tell the world his story, including the months when he suffered constant torture under the United States government. 

Reunited with Kevin Macdonald after working on British historical drama The Eagle, Rahim is fantastic in the central role, his performance an assured display of contained emotion. Swiftly fluctuating between French, English and Arabic, the actor floods the character with leniency without ever downplaying his rightful anger. The same, however, can’t be said of his fellow cast members, which includes Shailene Woodley as an assistant lawyer battling her morals and Benedict Cumberbatch attempting a southern accent that most resembles painful constipation.  

Despite its meaty inspiration, much of The Mauritanian consists of witty one-liners crafted to end up as screengrabs on social media, a procession of quips that rarely amount to something. “Constitution doesn’t have an asterisk in the end saying ‘terms and conditions apply’”, fires Hollander after being confronted by a journalist who branded her a “terrorist lawyer”. The well-rehearsed answer is an attempt to emphasise her decades-long quest for the preservation of the integrity of the law, justice the Holy Grail, her clients’ backgrounds a mere accessory. 

After thorough scraping, one can’t find much to be salvaged in Macdonald’s exploration of malfeasance. Despite the weight of its protagonist, the narrative drowns in its length as crucial elements are left unexplored in lieu of ticking off boxes from The Blockbuster To-Do List. Ultimately, it feels like extra homework on a Friday night. 



CAST: Tahar Rahim, Jodie Foster, Benedict Cumberbatch, Shailene Woodley 

DIRECTOR: Kevin Macdonald

WRITER: Michael Bronner

SYNOPSIS: Mohamedou Ould Salahi fights for freedom after being detained and imprisoned without charge by the U.S. Government for years.