By Adam Ray Palmer
The penultimate movie of the 2021 Glasgow Film Festival kicks for Cineroom is the two-time Golden Globe nominated movie, The Mauritanian.
The legal drama stars an array of talent including Tahar Rahim, Jodie Foster, Benedict Cumberbatch and Shailene Woodley; and directed by Scottish born filmmaker Keven Macdonald.
The Mauritanian follows Mohamedou Ould Salahi (Rahim), a man captured by the U.S. government who is suffering in Guantanamo Bay detention camp without charge or trial. After facing years held up in tortuous conditions and losing faith of ever leaving, Salahi finds support in defence attorney Nancy Hollander (Foster) and her associate Teri Duncan (Woodley).
Together, the trio faced many obstacles in the desperate attempts of freeing Salahi and fighting for justice. As the narrative unravels, the defence finds fabricated evidence by well-respected military prosecutor, Lt. Colonel Stuart Couch (Cumberbatch), which eventually leads to a scandalous and far-reaching conspiracy.
The initial excitement I had for this film was justifiably high having recently been awarded two Golden Globe nominations for Best Supporting Actress and Best Actor - Motion Picture Drama, respectively. Those award nods are certainly well received, but I can also see why it has limited success in the other categories.
For me, the acting on show is second to none. Tahar Rahim is a revelation in his portrayal of the titular character. He’s resilient and strong-willed for a man who is possibly guilty, but his decay from a strong man to a fragile boy is at times difficult to watch as the narrative progresses and more information is revealed. Rahim’s navigation of the arthouse-like torture sequences shows his acting pedigree and why award recognition is hardly surprising.
Similarly, with Jodie Foster, her supporting role is certainly one she takes control of; with her screen time pretty limited compared to Rahim, she definitely makes the most of it. She’s steely, cold but also has that element of doing what is right; supporting those who are innocent until proven guilty. Both their performances are highlights in an otherwise standard legal drama with a few standout scenes.
There isn’t much risk-taking in The Mauritanian as it feels like a simple re-telling of true events. There’s not a lot of challenge throughout the movie, and doesn’t pose the audience many questions but relies heavily on the stellar performances from the cast. It’s not that The Mauritanian is a bad film, it just doesn’t dive deep enough to test itself, never really humanising the dark recount of Salahi's injustice.
There are scenes of note as I have mentioned before, especially the torment that Mohamedou has to face, but the movie never brings the dramatic pull that it is clearly straining for. The Mauritanian is a good start to the festival as an informative legal drama, but nonetheless, it all feels too familiar to be a standout hit for me.
Cineroom’s rating: 3.5 stars
The Mauritanian will be released this month in the US and later in the year in the UK – certificate 15