The Mauritanian: Dramatisation of a Guantanamo inmate’s story

By James Moules

ANYONE who has payed even cursory attention to events surrounding the War on Terror will no doubt be familiar with the Guantanamo Bay detention facility – and accounts of horrific torture occurring within its walls.

The Mauritanian tells the story of one of its inmates – Mohamedou Ould Slahi (played gracefully by Tahar Rahim) – who was detained in the camp between 2002 and 2016 without any charge levelled against him.

Based on Slahi’s own memoir written during his time in Guantanamo, the film takes the format of a courtroom drama. Attorney Nancy Hollander (Jodie Foster) takes on his defence case for habeus corpus, while Lt Col Stuart Couch (Benedict Cumberbatch) is enlisted to bring charges.

The ensuing legal game of tug of war with the US government leads to an increasingly frustrating struggle for both sides of the aisle. As the story goes on, dark revelations emerge that make several players question everything they believed.

The film’s stellar cast does not fail to impress. A legal procedural based on true life might struggle to find strong characterisation behind the paper pushers, but The Mauritanian makes full use of the talent on display. All of the players in this game have a clearly defined stake, whether that be duty, reputation or even life itself.

It is tragic, then, that such a strong cast can be wasted on such an uninspired piece of storytelling.

The plot beats and character arcs throughout are so predictable and familiar it almost betrays the film’s grounding in reality – something that is especially galling in such a worthy tale of deceit and conspiracy.

Indeed, The Mauritanian is a film that never feels like it arrives at any particular thematic destination.

Slahi’s memoir is ripe for incisive and morally complex commentary on foreign policy and the War on Terror. The film portrays horrifying spectacles of torture, yet this is simply left to speak for itself. And while there is no doubt that any viewer would not failed to be appalled at what they see, The Mauritanian misses opportunity after opportunity to make a broader point.

The Mauritanian is not a terrible film by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a frustrating one. It is neither compelling or unique enough in its characterisation to justify being a character study, and nor is it thoughtful enough to provide the incisive commentary that its subject matter demands.

Anyone who wishes to see a visually shocking portrayal of the Guantanamo Bay facility will get what they want. Anyone who wants more will be disappointed.

Featured Image: STXfilms

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