Remember the confinement and torture of suspected 9/11 terrorists in Guantanamo? it feels like a century ago and yes, it’s still open. Previous efforts to shed light on this detention camp include Camp X-Ray, but it remains to be difficult to tackle and not only because of the subject. This time, you have The Mauritanian. This true-to-life story is based on “Guantánamo Diary”, a memoir by Mohamedou Salahi.
The plot unfolds as a legal procedural with the beat of a thriller. Flashbacks of interrogations, legal hurdles, and shady roadblocks build-up. The characters are constantly under pressure from a looming hunger for revenge.
The most interesting moments revolve around Salahi. He easily stands out from the thinly written characters thanks to the phenomenal Tahar Rahim.
Cinematography aptly creates the claustrophobic and dehumanizing conditions in Gitmo. The movie doesn’t leave much to the imagination in the harrowing torture sequences, which Salahi somehow endured for 70 days.
It’s commendable that the filmmakers are forthcoming about authorized interrogation tactics that violate human rights. Unfortunately, the movie remains flat despite gripping performances. Worse, The Mauritanian ends up being a self-congratulatory drama.
Yes, this is all bad and we must condemn it. We already know that. The enhanced interrogation program has already been covered, most recently in “How America Tortures”. Before this 61-page report was released, details about the program have been leaked more than a decade ago.
It doesn’t help that this movie is crowded with convenient protagonists. Jodie Foster and Benedict Cumberbatch were great but their characters are interchangeable. Shailene Woodley is here too, but she doesn’t have much to do.
And even with two steely arbiters of the law on his side, Salahi still remained imprisoned for 14 years. This is obviously the most important question in this Gitmo story and isn’t answered. The movie could have also been propelled by the human story within but this is shortchanged.
The Mauritanian is a well-intentioned but misguided effort. It’s a shallow comfort that there are few people willing to stand for justice within the same system that keeps Gitmo open for business.
The Mauritanian is a well-intentioned and well-acted but ultimately flat and self-congratulatory Gitmo drama.