Review: The Mauritanian

The Mauritanian is a powerful depiction of the realities of Guantanamo Bay, writes Tamara Krivskaya.


Watch the trailer for The Mauritanian here.

Image source: Isselmou Sidi

The Mauritanian follows the real-life story of Mohamedou Ould Slahi – a man held without a single charge for 14 years in Guantanamo Bay.


Slahi is a practicing Muslim, with ties to al-Qaeda and a cousin who called him from Saddam Hussein’s satellite phone. He’s not meant to be immediately likeable, yet I’d struggle to name a character who charmed me in the same way that he did.


What makes this movie stand out is its decision to embark on a brave move away from Hollywood’s one-dimensional depiction of Muslims and Arabs; a trope that has sadly dominated Western cinema since the tragic events of 9/11.


The cast is superb, especially the chemistry between Jodie Foster (as Slahi’s lawyer, Nancy Hollander) and Tahar Rahim, who without a doubt deserves an Oscar for his performance.


That is not to say that the film itself doesn't have flaws. The records guy, Kent, seems like an obsolete character, whose attempts to be funny fall flat and feel painfully awkward rather than light-hearted. Benedict Cumberbatch puts on a southern accent that at times veers on comical.


An Instagram post showing Benedict Cumberbatch in The Mauritanian.

Harsher critics may point out other technical flaws, and I am sure there are a few, but this movie made me feel something, which to me is the benchmark of any good work of art.


The touching relationships Slahi forms in a place often devoid of hope are beacons of light in what is otherwise an emotionally exhausting two hours: specifically, his friendship with a fellow prisoner nicknamed 'Marseille', and with one of the prison guards, who he affectionately refers to as 'G. I. Joe'. The small rays of light allow the movie to play with our emotions, carefully alternating between raw scenes of violent abuse and fragile threads of humanity with people trying to do what’s right.

Slahi’s ability to remain cheerful also provides jarring moments of humour throughout the otherwise tense film.


Maybe this isn’t a movie which needs to be picked apart on technicalities. Maybe we need to watch this movie as a piece of an uncomfortable historical record; a kind of reckoning with our own failures and a lesson in how fear can make us do worse things than our aggressors.