September 11th 2001 is perhaps the most infamous tragedy of the 21st century thus far. The terrorist attack, which saw two planes fly into the world trade centre in New York City, has been explored in perhaps every angle in films such as; Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, Paul Greengrass’ United 93, Katherine Bigalow’s Zero Dark Thirty and Gavin Hood’s Official Secrets. Now in 2021, when you thought you knew all there was to know about 9/11, Kevin McDonald, the director of The Last King Of Scotland and Touching the Void, would like to introduce you to Mohamedou Ould Salahi, portrayed by the outstanding Tahar Rahim.
Held captive in Guantanamo Bay on suspicion of organizing 9/11, but imprisoned without charges or a trial, Salahi, lost hope of every seeing his beloved mother ever again. To make matters worse for Salahi, military prosecutor Stuart Couch, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, has a personal stake in the case, wanting nothing less than Salahi in the electric chair. However, Salahi’s luck may not have completely run out when attorney’s Nancy Hollander, played by Jodie Foster, and Teri Duncan, played by Shailene Woodley, take him on as their client.
Kevin McDonald knows how to get the best out of his actors, case and point being Forrest Whittaker’s academy award winning performance in The Last King Of Scotland. With a star making performance from Tahar Rahim and a Golden Globe winning performance from Jodie Foster, it’s safe to say that The Mauritanian doesn’t disappoint on the acting front. However, beyond the films exceptional cast and their equally as exceptional performances, The Mauritanian is a rather unimaginative and uninspired retelling of an incredible and little known story.
Fortunately, the source material is strong and the actors are able to invest you in their performances enough to make The Mauritanian worth watching, but on the other hand, this makes the films bland approach all the more frustrating. Since 9/11, the American government’s anti-terrorism efforts have been questionable to say the least and Guantanamo Diary, the book on which this film is based off, exposes some of these efforts. Although impossible to not make a political statement with this source material, it annoys me that The Mauritanian doesn’t go any deeper, nor does it feel the need to explore its characters or our recent past, beyond the bare minimum.
Overall, The Mauritanian is a compelling story told by the wrong filmmakers. Carried on the shoulders of its actors, especially that of Jodie Foster and Tahar Rahim, this legal drama fails them as it doesn’t seem interested in achieving its full potential. I can acknowledge how most audiences will enjoy the films performances and by the numbers structure, however, for me, I can’t help but feel that the cast, Guantanamo Diary and especially its author, Mohamedou Ould Salahi, deserve a lot better than this.
The Mauritanian is AVAILABLE TO STREAM on AMAZON PRIME on APRIL 1st