Starting with a bad accent and going nowhere fast, "The Mauritanian" feels like it should have been a better movie but never quite achieves its lofty goals.
"The Mauritanian" is based on the 2015 memoir, "Guantanamo Diary," by Mohamedou Ould Salahi, a man of Mauritanian descent who was detained following the 9/11 attacks and suspected of being a key player for al Qaeda. He was sent to the controversial detention camps at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he was held - without official charges being made against him - for nearly 15 years.
In the film, Mohamedou Ould Salahi (Tahar Rahim) is at a wedding in Mauritania when some government agents pull up, ask him to join them, and then drive off. It takes several years until criminal defense attorney Nancy Hollander (Jodie Foster) and her young assistant, Teri Duncan (Shailene Woodley), get the case, and they travel to Cuba to represent Salahi in a military trial. Tasked as a prosecutor is military attorney Stu Couch (Benedict Cumberbatch), and we feel like we're headed towards a showdown between two celebrity actors, a la "A Few Good Men" or the like.
But what we get instead is a drama that gets lost in the shuffle of its own making. Unless you've been living under a rock, you've at least in part heard about Guantanamo Bay and how people detained there have been tortured. Salahi's story in the film is meant to show us the hardships of his capture, but it never seems to provoke. On the other side, a legal battle brews but never quite materializes in the way that we're used to in this sort of film. Mixed into the cluttered narrative are flashback sequences that take us away from the current story line and don't necessarily add anything to the narrative throughput.
And oh, that accent. Benedict Cumberbatch is of course a brilliant British actor, but his deep Southern American accent is jarring at first, and distracting as it goes along. He seems miscast in a film that feels out-of-step in many other ways.
"The Mauritanian" doesn't quite give justice to Salahi's story, nor does it engage the audience in any meaningful way. If political thrillers are your cup of tea, you may be able to stomach "The Mauritanian," but for the rest of us, it's just torture...relatively speaking.
Genre: Drama, Thriller.
Run Time: 2 hour 9 minutes.
Starring: Jodie Foster, Benedict Cumberbatch, Shailene Woodley, Zachary Levi, Tahar Rahim.
Directed by Kevin Macdonald ("Black Sea," "The Eagle," "State of Play," "The Last King of Scotland").
"The Mauritanian" is available on Friday, February 19th, 2021.
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