Mauritanian citizen Mohamedou Ould Slahi was held without trial for 14 years and 2 months in the bowels of Guantanamo Bay military detention camp by the United States. This film not only tells his story during those years but also depicts some of the criminal torture, sometimes for 70 days at a stretch, he was subjected to whilst held there.
The movie makes it plain that the American General in charge of Guantanamo, together with many of his male and female subalterns and, indeed, many of his political superiors, should face criminal charges for their crimes against Slahi and hundreds of others, whose experiences help show why the United States is so widely reviled.
The U.S. military personnel stationed at Guantanamo, Club Gitmo as the late Rush :Liumbaugh referred to it, come across as ghouls that belong only in nightmares. That they actually wore ghoulish masks as they tortured Slahi does nothing to mitigate their guilt and nor does anything in the film, Jodie Foster’s role as Slahi’s lawyer apart, do anything to lessen the culpability of the entire United States in this and similar travesties.
Although The Mauritanian won three industry awards, two of which were awarded to Foster who has lost none of her skills since she famously crossed swords with Hannibal Lector all those years ago, the film, as a piece of entertainment, is patchy. First off, as 9/11 happened more than twenty years ago, many of those watching the film would have only vague memories of it assuming, of course, they were old enough to have any such memories of those events.
Secondly, particularly towards the start of the film, we are treated to flashbacks in Arabic and French, so that it is about ten minutes or so until the film settles down and we can try to get our bearings to figure out what is happening.
This is no Rambo movie, where the plot, the protagonist and the antagonist are all immediately laid out for us and we can popcorn our way through the bouts of mayhem that pepper the film. The roughest The Mauritanian gets is Foster and her legal assistant being manhandled and jostled by protesters as they enter court to defend Slahi.
On top of that, of course, there is the ugly spectre of the violence and torture of Guantanamo, where a sign reads that US personnel are not to harm the iguanas on pain of a $10 penalty. And there is, of course, the violent spectre of the American judicial system which redacted, for as long as they could, evidence of their own criminal actions against Slahi.
French actor Tahar Rahim, who plays Slahi, can be proud of his performance as a man who was tortured for 14 years in hell but who could still smile and build a life afterwards. Though Scottish director Kevin MacDonald could, no doubt, explain why he rolled out the earlier scenes in particular the way he did, as Foster has also considerable experience as a director, no doubt he made a much better job of this film than I, or indeed the good folk at the Guardian, might have.
The Guardian, in fact, found it all a bit lopsided, too many good guys (and girls) and not enough villains. Although the CIA had accused Slahi of being Al Qaeda’s Forrest Gump, popping up wherever there was mass slaughter to be done, we saw none of that, not least because Slahi was totally innocent of the phalanx of crimes they were trying to pin on him. Although The Guardian may have a point in saying that The Mauritanian should have been something else, a Rambo shoot ’em up, a Shakespearian sonnet or whatever, it is what it is, warts and all.
Although it is not quite to the taste of the Guardian, the film is memorable enough, as is its ending, which tells us that Slahi returned to a hero’s welcome in Mauritania, where he is married to an American lawyer with whom he has a young son who, we must hope, never goes through the torments his father and so many others did.
*Although The Mauritanian was scheduled for release in early 2021, the Covid crisis badly impacted its distribution, particularly at the box office. It is available on Amazon Prime and similar outlets.
Watch the trailor here