In 2002, a Mauritanian, Mohamedou Ould Salahi was taken to the Guantánamo Bay detention camp in Cuba where he was held due to his supposed connection with the 9/11 attacks of the World Trade Center. While behind bars, Salahi wrote his memoir, Guantanamo Diary. The book was published in January of 2015. Not only did it become an international best-seller, but Salahi became the first detainee to publish a memoir while still being imprisoned. It is that book that is the basis for the movie, The Mauritanian which stars Tahar Rahim, Jodie Foster, Shailene Woodley, Benedict Cumberbatch and Zachary Levi.
Directed by Kevin Macdonald, The Mauritanian opens with Salahi (Rahim) visiting his family in Afghanistan for a wedding celebration when he is called out by Mauritanian authorities to speak to them and the FBI about his involvement with the 9/11 attacks. The authorities allow Salahi to drive himself to the meeting location and he tells his mother that he will be back. After being labeled “missing” for two or three years, defense attorney Nancy Hollander (Foster) is asked to first find out if Salahi was being held at the Guantánamo Bay detention camp and if so, to represent him.
It’s true. Salahi is found there living behind bars, but not yet convicted of any actual crime. Hollander is a tough woman who doesn’t seem to care if her client is innocent or guilty of the crimes committed. Her motivation is that Salahi should be given the chance to have his case heard before a court of law. Hollander’s associate, Teri Duncan (Woodley), is a little more skeptical about the situation and is horrified by the things that Salahi is accused of doing.
Then there is Lt. Colonel Stuart Couch (Cumberbatch), a military prosecutor who’s own friend died on 9/11 and possibly because of Salahi’s involvement. That gives him the motivation to put this man on death row. However, this God-fearing Christian couldn’t be any different from the non-religious Hollander but the two find a common bond with their desire to fight for justice even if that mean battling against each other. The more information the two dig up, the more horrified they become.
I doubt that anyone would be surprised to learn that both Foster and Cumberbatch are fantastic in their roles for this movie, but Rahim is also very good at bringing the real Salahi’s charms to the screen. At times he appears to be guilty and then innocent, keeping both Hollander and the audience somewhat confused.
STX Films describes The Mauritanian as a thriller, but as good as this movie is, I wouldn’t call it a thriller. There is little to no suspense that builds during its long screen time. In my opinion, Foster and Cumberbatch could have had a few more scenes together perhaps discussing religion. However the scenes that they do have together are good as both characters appear to respect the other.
This is a very sobering tale, but not one that will leave you feeling depressed by the time the credits roll up. Since being released in other countries before the United States, reviews of this movie have been mixed. However, the legal drama has already been nominated for “Best Supporting Actor” and “Best Actor” for the 78th Golden Globe Awards. The movie opens in select markets where theaters are open on February 12th.
Main Image: Tahar Rahim and Jodie Foster (STX Films)
I write about pop culture, arts and entertainment in the greater Seattle area.